Learning Mandarin is just part of the Facebook founder's ambitious but subtle strategy to return to the Chinese market. Huo Yuanjia (and Ang Lee) would be proud.
Mark Zuckerberg has apparently learned more from the Chinese than just Mandarin.
The Facebook founder wowed the world again this week, handling a 30-minute Q&A in Beijing almost entirely in the Chinese language that he's been privately studying for the past four years. (And yes, he did an admirable if rather-short-of-perfect job with his Mandarin.)
But beyond the language, Zuckerberg has also clearly learned a lesson or two from his Chinese Kung-Fu idol Huo Yuanjia, applying the martial arts "Pushing Hands" technique — using gentle movements to redirect your opponent's force and undermining his natural instinct — toward his even bigger goal of gettting Facebook back up and running in China.
The native country of his wife's parents has banned Facebook since 2009. Since then, China is one of currently nine other countries, including Iran, North Korea and Cuba, where the little blue "F" cannot be found on the Internet.
Instead of attempting direct negotiations with the Chinese authorities as he'd done before, Zuckerberg now appears intent on more of a "pushing hands" approach. So there he was on stage promoting Facebook without even mentioning the word "Facebook," and accepting a place on the board of China's Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management.
But what the social media billionaire also said to his Chinese audience showed a master's touch for mixing flattery and sincerity. When he was asked why he's learning Chinese, Zuck said, "There are three reasons that I learn to speak Chinese. The first one is that my wife is Chinese, her family speaks Chinese and her grandmother only speaks Chinese. I want to talk with them. Second reason, I want to learn Chinese culture. China is a great country, and I think learning the language can help me get a better knowledge of the culture. And thirdly, Chinese is a very difficult language, and I am a person who loves challenge!"
He also had a self-deprecating joke ready, recalling that when he told his Chinese-American wife Priscilla Chan that he had trouble listening in Mandarin, she replied that he didn't listen well in English either.
Note: Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee, whose first family drama feature was the 1992 Pushing Hands, must be taking notes!
Zuckerberg also announced that 20 young Chinese graduates have been hired by Facebook this year, with many more hires planned in the years to come. He also sprinkled in a bit of American-Dreamlike inspiration for his hosts. "I created a company not because I wanted to create a company: It is because I want to change the world."
But one question seems to linger: Which will be more difficult, learning Chinese or getting Facebook back in the hands of the Chinese people?