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Beijing: Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg shocked an audience in Beijing this week when he conducted a half-hour-long question-and-answer session entirely in Chinese.
Zuckerberg, 30, drew gasps from a crowd at Tsinghua University on Wednesday when, after being introduced to the audience in English, he greeted the attendees in their own language.
“Hello everyone. Thanks for coming,” he told the group of students and faculty members. “I’m very glad to be in Beijing. I love this city. My Chinese is really a mess, but I study using Chinese every day.”
“Perhaps I need practice,” the New York Times translated the social media titan as having told the crowd.
Later, the web tycoon said he started learning the language because his wife, Priscilla Chan, is Chinese. “Her family speaks Chinese, and her grandmother only speaks Chinese,” Zuckerberg said. “When Priscilla and I decided to get married, I told her grandmother using Chinese. She was really shocked.”
According to Wired, the web tycoon began learning the language back in 2010 — seven years after he started dating Chan, the daughter of a Chinese refugee, and two years before they married.
“Zuckerberg’s proficiency would appear to be the positive result of one of his annual self-improvement challenges. Every year, Zuckerberg picks a skill or a goal to pursue with extreme focus. This year, the plan was to writeone thoughtful thank-you note every day. In 2010, his aim was to learn Mandarin,” Marcus Wohlsen wrote for Wired.
With regards to Zuckerberg’s ability to speak Chinese, though, Mandarin speaker Isaac Stone Fish said at Foreign Policy that, “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.”
When asked for an explanation during the event as to why he wanted to learn Chinese, Zuckerberg said that, in addition to being the language his wife grew up with, he enjoys the culture and likes to challenge himself.
Zuckerberg used Facebook, of course, to share a video of the event to his online followers on Wednesday when he acknowledged that the event was his “first ever public Q&A in Chinese.”
“We discussed connecting the world, Internet.org, innovation and the early days of Facebook,” Zuckerberg wrote. Web users in mainland China wouldn’t be immediately aware of his remarks, however, given that Facebook, despite being among the most popular websites in the world, has been banned by Beijing since 2009. Nevertheless, the Times reported that Zuckerberg touted the company’s relationship with the company anyway and said, “We help Chinese companies increase foreign customers.”
“They use Facebook ads to find new customers,” he said. “For example, Lenovo is in Indonesia using Facebook ads to sell phones.”
“We want to help other places in the world connect to China,” he said.
According to Victor Anthony, a managing director at Topeka Capital Markets, Wednesday’s event may indicate that the website will only increase its presence in China during the coming years.
“This is just one more data point to me that confirms the potential for Facebook entering China is likely to happen over the next couple of years,” he told Bloomberg.