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Facebook's Zuckerberg turns on his Chinese charm

2014-10-23 16:21 chinadaily.com.cn Web Editor: Si Huan
Mark Zukerberg gives a speech at Tsinghua University on Wednesday. [Photo: screen shot from online video]

Mark Zukerberg gives a speech at Tsinghua University on Wednesday. [Photo: screen shot from online video]

Foreign visitors to China can create an instant camaraderie of goodwill by speaking a few words of Mandarin. But Mark Zuckerberg went one step further: he conducted a complete half-hour public conversation in the Chinese language.

The founder and CEO of Facebook was supposed to open the Oct 22 "dialogue" at Beijing's Tsinghua University with Chinese greetings like "nihao", but "he simply could not stop with it", according to those present. And his heavily accented Mandarin elicited waves of hearty laughs from attendees, who cheered and applauded him on.

"He struggled through his Chinese, but it lightened up the atmosphere like no other," said one participant. More than anything, people were pleasantly surprised at Zuckerberg's efforts of mastering the Chinese language, which he said is "very challenging".

Zuckerberg started studying Chinese in 2010 and has practiced on a daily basis, he said.

He has a few things in his favor: His wife Priscilla Chan is Chinese-American and her grandmother speaks only Chinese.

When asked whose Chinese is better, his or his wife's, Zuckerberg said he knows more Chinese words but his wife understands Chinese better. "I asked her why my listening ability is not as good as hers, and she said my listening of English is not that good either."

Another reason he mentioned is the allure of Chinese culture, in which he is very interested. Of course you can brush it aside as purely diplomatic, but he backed it up with an example: He has taken a liking to the martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia, epitomized in the Jet Li movie Fearless, and he took a special trip to Tianjin, Huo's hometown, for a visit.

This is Zuckerberg's fourth trip to China and for a meeting of Tsinghua University's board, for which he has been invited as a member. "I want to study and support China's education with this opportunity," he said.

He is also recruiting Chinese talent. "Last month we recruited 20 graduates, and there'll be more next year," he said. All of the positions are located outside China.

Zuckerberg offered a few tips to Chinese entrepreneurs: "The best companies in the world were started not because the founders wanted to be entrepreneurial, but because they wanted to change the world. If you want a business first and then generate some ideas, you may not know which ideas are good; but if you have ideas first and then create a business, you'll be more likely to succeed."

Before the occasion, Chinese students who were present turned to their fellow international peers and asked them to help out in case they could not understand Zuckerberg's English. "But the situation was reversed," one Chinese student said. "They asked us to translate into English for them."


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