Zuckerberg has a date with destiny in the heart of China

By Jules Quartly (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-11-24 09:48
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Zuckerberg has a date with destiny in the heart of China

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame is coming to China in December and he is publicly asking for advice on where to go and what to see. While posing the question on his site's latest Beta tool is kind of neat, I'm actually pretty sure the world's youngest billionaire knows exactly where he's going and what he will be doing.

Let's face it, he's obviously aware that Facebook is not accessible in China, so he's not expecting many responses to his question from people who live here. In reality, he surely has a public relations team that is, as we speak, negotiating high-level talks with Chinese leaders to give him access to a billion plus extra characters.

Zuckerberg has a date with destiny in the heart of China

So, there will be a picture of him on the Great Wall, he will visit the Forbidden City and if there are meetings in Shanghai he will take in the Bund. Then he will have to take time out from all the sightseeing to meet up with some of his Chinese-American girlfriend's relatives, who live here.

"Zuck" has been diligent in his preparations for the big trip East, taking Mandarin lessons every day and studying Chinese history. If he's clever (he is) he will know that meeting Priscilla Chan's family in China is one step closer to marrying the woman he met at a frat party in his sophomore year at Harvard, where he developed Facebook.

This is, not incidentally, where the first scenes of the film The Social Network, take place. I didn't know much about Zuckerberg before watching the film recently and I'm not an avid user of Facebook because it sucks the time and life out of me. But the movie moved me and I liked his response: "I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive."

He couldn't have been complaining about invasion of privacy, as Facebook is pretty much predicated on it. So, I guess he was worried about being stereotyped as manipulative and ruthless. While I suggest this is part of the job definition of an entrepreneur with dreams of global domination, the fact that he cared enough to worry about what people think about him means that he is still connected and motivated by more than just fame and money.

Which is partly why Zuckerberg's China love story could be such an interesting one. Businesses come here for a billion customers, but Zuckerberg says he's offering openness. The authorities aren't totally sold on that, obviously. So, he's already tweaked the channels a bit by saying in recent interviews that countries have different values and Facebook respects this, such as banning content about Nazis in Germany and pictures of Muhammad in Pakistan. He says China is "extremely complex" and he will humbly come here to listen and learn. This should appeal to Confucians.

Zuckerberg knows China doesn't need Facebook, but he admits to needing China. He recently said in a TechCrunch interview: "How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 (sic) billion people?" He has made it clear that without roping in China, Russia, Japan and South Korea continued growth will be hard to achieve. Furthermore, other players could take advantage of the market gap and fill the void themselves (like Sina or Kaixin), thereby challenging Facebook.

So, unlike the geriatric Mr Fox or arrogant Mr Google, the young suitor Zuckerberg will have a more respectful approach to China. Instead of forcing himself on her, he will be sensitive to her needs. Whether he manages to get into bed with and eventually marry her will no doubt be central to the plot of Social Network II.