Mark Zuckerberg is trending across Chinese social media today. Yesterday, the Facebook founder delivered a 30 minute speech in Mandarin at Tsinghua University, known as the MIT of China. Zuckerberg himself told his Chinese audience that his Chinese was terrible — a display of culturally appropriate false modesty to be sure — but his Chinese language skills appeared strained at times.
But this appearance wasn’t about Zuckerberg’s Chinese language ability. Facebook has had its eye on China for years. Since 2009, the site has been blocked inside of China, inaccessible without a VPN that helps you get over the country’s so-called “Great Firewall.” And for a man who wants to connect the world, not having access to a fifth of humanity is a problem. Like every other internet company, Zuckerberg is doing whatever he can to appeal to the Chinese government in the hopes of getting access to the China market.
Does he stand a chance in China?
“At this point, probably not,” says Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz. “Facebook’s biggest draw is that it puts you in touch with a user base of millions of people with whom you can share any sort of content. China’s government has shown that it’s scared of sites like this because it wants to control the information its citizens have access to, not cede that power to a foreign company that doesn’t self-censor.”
Schmitz says if Facebook wanted access to China, it would have to offer some sort of localized censored version that would be cut-off from the rest of the world.
But Zuckerberg deserves a lot of credit for laying his pride on the line. In the world of business, if you’re going to stand any chance with the Chinese, you have to show that you’re willing to invest in Chinese culture and Chinese language. And according to Schmitz, no matter how messy his speech was, Zuckerberg is certainly doing that, and the Chinese are giving him big points for that effort.
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