Mark Zuckerberg impressed audiences in Tsinghua University, Beijing, on Wednesday by talking and answering questions in Mandarin, which the entrepreneur has been learning for the past four years.
Zuckerberg enjoys immense popularity in China, despite the inability of the country’s internet users to access Facebook. The country is in the middle of an entrepreneurship boom – home-grown internet giants like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu have convinced a generation of young professionals that passion, focus and risk-taking can yield massive rewards.
Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship is relatively new to China, historically speaking, and many Chinese citizens regard Zuckerberg as its paragon.
While Zuckerberg’s Mandarin was far from fluent, his performance during the 30-minute session was coherent and, at times, charmingly idiomatic – at the talk’s start, he called his Mandarin level “really terrible”, to laughter and applause.
The talk was available to mainland viewers on Tsinghua University’s website, and circulated widely on domestic social media sites. Many users praised Zuckerberg’s apparent understanding of Chinese language and culture; others chose not to let his performance distract from the government’s treatment of his site.
“I really hope this can help resolve the problem of the internet being blocked,” wrote one user on Weibo, the country’s most popular microblog.
“Mark Zuckerberg, you think coming to China and speaking Chinese will make the government give Facebook a green light? Let me teach you a Beijing expression: ‘forget about it’,” wrote another.
Facebook has had a rocky history in mainland China, and is typically blocked by the country’s “great firewall”, the censorship apparatus with which the state keeps tight control over its citizens web use.
The company has, at times, considered working with the censors to get the site whitelisted – which would entail Facebook itself working to keep the network clean of objectionable content, such as references to the Tiananmen Square massacre or banned religion Falun Gong.
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