Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is a lot of things to a lot of people. To some he's a visionary and role model, to others he's a trespasser and mercenary. Yet no one can deny that the man who invented the world's second most popular Website in his college dorm room is an extremely intelligent guy. It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that Zuckerberg has found spare time to pick up Mandarin Chinese.
Zuckerberg showcased his skills on Wednesday to the amazement of a crowd at Beijing's Tsinghua University, conducting a 30-minute Q&A session entirely in Mandarin.
Reviews of his speech have been mixed. One person described Zuckerberg's Chinese as akin to that of an "articulate seven-year-old with a mouth full of marbles," and at one point he mistakenly said that Facebook has 11 mobile users instead of a 1 billion. Still, the reaction of the crowd in Beijing (you can hear actual "wows" in this video) mirrors many people's response to hearing Zuckberg break out in a difficult-to-learn foreign language—we're impressed.
You'd expect a CEO of a major Chinese company to speak some English, but the CEO of an American company—and one as influential as Facebook—speaking Chinese is a rare novelty. Zuckerberg says he decided to learn Mandarin to better communicate with his Chinese-American in-laws and because he likes to be challenged.
But the public relations story here is hard to avoid. Facebook has been banned in China since 2009, with other Chinese-based social media sites like Qzone, Sina Weibo and others taking its place. The world's most populous country represents a vast untapped audience for Facebook, and positive publicity for the CEO in such a direct, populist manner is a great place to start in building a presence there.
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