Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn't exactly known for his charm, but the most celebrated young entrepreneur of the century certainly knows how to win over a crowd of college students in China - by speaking to them for a full half hour in Mandarin Chinese.
Earlier this week, Zuckerberg flew to the Tsinghua University in Beijing to conduct a 30-minute question-and-answer portion discussing "connecting the world, Internet.org, innovation and the early days of Facebook" with college students at the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, where he was recently appointed as one of the school's board members. On Wednesday, Zuckerberg clearly swept his audience off their feet when he uttered his greeting in Mandarin.
"Da jia hao? (Hello, everyone)," he says.
The audience was visibly thrilled as they "oohed" and "aahed" over the Facebook chief speaking to them in Mandarin.
"Wo de Zhongwen hen zaogao (My Chinese is pretty terrible)," he adds.
Nonetheless, the audience forgave him for whatever mistakes in usage or inflections he might have made. Without a doubt, they were surprised and excited to know that Zuckerberg himself is proficient in Mandarin. Asked by one of the audience members why he speaks the language, Zuckerberg says his wife, medical doctor Priscilla Chan, is an American-born Chinese whose mother only spoke Mandarin. He then tells the charming story of how he decided to ask for his future mother-in-law for his wife's hand in Chinese.
Another reason he shares with the audience is he regularly challenges himself to learn new skills or pursue a new goal every year, all while running his $205 billion social network.
"Wo xihuan tiaozhan (I like challenges)," he says.
Every year, the Facebook chief embarks on one yearly self-improvement challenge, from eating meat only from animals he slaughtered himself to writing one thank-you note every day. In 2010, Zuckerberg decided to learn Mandarin.
Of course, one other reason he doesn't tell the audience is the fact that Zuckerberg wants Facebook in China, which currently has more than 600 million Internet users or twice the total population in the United States. Following the Ürümqi riots in 2009, President Xi Jinping ordered that Facebook be blocked in China because activists were apparently using the social network for communication.
However, Zuckerberg's latest efforts show Facebook is working to re-establish its presence in China, where his Q&A session is currently gaining lots of positive attention from the mostly state-owned local media. His appointment to the board of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management could also bring Zuckerberg the clout he needs to push for the un-blocking of Facebook in China. Tsinghua is a highly-regarded academic institution in the country and is sometimes known as "the MIT of China."
Facebook has been looking to hire Chinese university students as language specialists who can help Facebook better understand the Chinese market. Previous job postings also showed Facebook was on the market for Chinese Internet engineers to help the social network understand the workings of data and co-location centers in the country. And Bloomberg reports that Facebook has entered a three-year agreement to lease office property in Beijing's business district to house a future Facebook office in China.
A video of the entire 30-minute interview is posted on Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page.