Yesterday, CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg spoke in Chinese to university students in China without any need for an interpreter.

Zuckerberg, referred to by the host as “马克”  (ie the Mandarin translation for “Mark”), was the guest at a campus Q&A at Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management in Beijing. He has become a member of the School’s Advisory Board.

Culture is a competitive advantage

In 30 minutes he showcased his impressive Mandarin speaking and listening skills. More significantly he demonstrated that for globalisation cultural awareness is a competitive advantage. Google executives did the same this month.

He mentioned his favourite Chinese dishes (local snacks “胡同小吃” and Peking Duck “北京烤鸭”) and a whole lot more about changes ahead.

To understand a culture it helps greatly to learn the language or at least to hire people who speak the language and know the culture.

Zuckerberg is impressed with technology innovations in China and referred to recruiting university students. Victor Anthony, managing director and equity analyst at Topeka Capital Markets, has a different take, seeing it as Facebook’s decision to “bring them in-house to understand China better”.

Start-up advice

Zuckerberg famously left Harvard University to set up Facebook, now valued in excess of $200 billion. Asked for tips for setting up a company, he said founders need to persevere and have faith in their business vision and should first:

  • have a firm business vision;
  • believe in that vision;
  • conceptualise the company and its business; and
  • be ready to make multiple tough decisions.

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality

When asked about upcoming technology trends, Facebook’s founder envisages that upcoming technology breakthroughs will involve:

  • artificial intelligence (”人工智能”);and
  • virtual reality (“虚拟现实”).

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg, together with Elon Musk, invested in artificial intelligence firm Vicarious FPC as referenced by this article published by Time magazine.

In about the same month, Facebook announced its US$2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, LLC. In the Tsinghua dialogue session, Zuckerberg described this as Facebook’s first step into development of virtual reality.

Facebook in China

When asked about Facebook’s entrance into China, Zuckerberg responded that Facebook is already in China. The audience laughed hysterically. Though famously a blocked website in China, to access Facebook locals use virtual private networks (“VPNs”) to bypass the Chinese firewall (“翻墙”). By learning the language and culture Zuckerberg now has the means to further permeate the wall.


Rosana She was born in Hong Kong, went to high school in England, and graduated from Sydney University with degrees in law and arts (media and communications). She is a lawyer with Dilanchian Lawyers & Consultants from 2015 to 2017 specialising in trade with China, intellectual property, information technology and general business law.

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Noric Dilanchian