Zuckerberg woos Chinese audience with knowledge of Mandarin at Q&A session

23 Oct 2014

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg answers questions during a Q&A session at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China

Despite Facebook being blocked in China since 2009, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg still appears to have sway there, after his recent Q&A session at Tsinghua University saw him answer a number of questions in Mandarin.

Facebook’s co-founder appeared in the university in Beijing, having been appointed to its new board that also includes IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, with the intention of wooing a Chinese audience by recreating a greater link between the social network and mainland China.

In his introduction, Zuckerberg said in heavily accented Mandarin: “Hello, everyone,” before explaining to the rather surprised audience, “I want to study Chinese culture. Studying the language helps me study the culture. So I’m trying to learn the language. Also, I like a challenge.”

Despite Facebook’s ban within the country, many of China’s largest companies and organisations maintain Facebook accounts, as well as a variety of other social media sites that are restricted from the general public.

In answering an audience member’s question, Zuckerberg confirmed this already existing network in China, despite the government ban.

“We’re already in China. We help Chinese companies increase their overseas customers; they use Facebook advertising to find more customers. So, we want to help different places in the world understand China.”

The 30-year-old multi-billionaire was also quick to praise a number of Chinese tech companies that are showing incredible growth on a year-by-year basis, particularly Xiaomi and, of course, Alibaba, which recently astounded the stock market with its IPO in the US, peaking at US$92.70 per share.

Despite impressing the Chinese audience with his ability to speak to Mandarin, cunning linguists able to speak the language have compared Zuckerberg’s ability to that of ‘a seven-year-old’. One commentator described the reaction as mere platitudes.

“It’s hard not to see a patronising note in the Chinese audience’s reaction to Zuckerberg’s Mandarin. To borrow from Samuel Johnson’s quip, he was like a dog walking on its hind legs: It wasn’t done well, but it was a surprise to see it done at all.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic