For what Mark Zuckerberg said was his “first real speech in any language” sharing how he started thinking about Facebook’s mission, the company’s co-founder chose Chinese.
A year after communicating with Chinese colleague students briefly in Mandarin, Mr. Zuckerberg returned to Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University with a 22-minute speech entirely in Chinese on Saturday.
“I just gave my first-ever speech in Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing–on why you need a strong sense of mission to change the world,” wrote Mr. Zuckerberg on his Facebook page, together with the video, subtitled in English, soon after the event Saturday afternoon at Tsinghua University. He was appointed to the advisory board of Tsinghua’s School of Economics and Management.
Dressed in a similar-style gray T-shirt as last year, Mr. Zuckerberg spoke on a stage alone without any transcript in hand. Even with frequent pauses and grammatical mistakes, his Chinese appeared to have improved from last year, when he was mainly able to talk about simpler topics such as family and Chinese kung fu movie stars.
Mr. Zuckerberg opened the speech by stating the reason he started Facebook in 2004: “to connect people online.”
“At the time, there were so many websites on the Internet and you could find almost everything–news, music, books, things to buy–but there was no service to help us find the most important thing to our lives: people, ” he said.
“I want to connect people,” he said, “and when I look at Chinese companies like Alibaba and Xiaomi, I see the same story.”
Mr. Zuckerberg also emphasized his interest in expanding Facebook’s business outside America. He said some people worried Facebook might only work in the U.S. for connecting people, but the company will keep going, expanding to other countries.
The audience rewarded Mr. Zuckerberg with lengthy applause when he cited a Chinese proverb about how hard work can “grind an iron pestle into a needle” to drive home the point that one can change the world through persistent effort.
Mr. Zuckerberg also cited Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma.
“Jack Ma has a great quote which I like a lot: Compared with 15 years ago, we are big; compared with 15 years from now, we are still a baby,” he said.
After the speech, Chinese Internet users gave their impressions of the speech.
“I am amazed that Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese skill has improved so much over a year. What is my excuse for not learning English well?” wrote one user on the Twitter-like social-media platform Weibo.
“Although it was tough for me to understand what he said because of his strong accent, I really appreciate his efforts and ability,” wrote another Weibo user.
Mr. Zuckerberg’s foreign-language skills have also won him attention from top Chinese officials.
In September, Mr. Zuckerberg talked to President Xi Jinping in Chinese during Mr. Xi’s meeting with U.S. and Chinese tech executives in Seattle. He also had an official Facebook page set up for Mr. Xi’s U.S. visit, even though it couldn’t be easily accessed from China, where Facebook’s website remains blocked.
“This was the first time I’ve ever spoken with a world leader entirely in a foreign language,” he wrote on his Facebook page shortly after the meeting.
Chinese entrepreneur Zhou Hongyi, who also attended the meeting, said Mr. Zuckerberg got more time with Mr. Xi than other American entrepreneurs because he was speaking Chinese. “To find a foreigner who can speak Chinese is always a shock, so they spoke the longest,” Mr. Zhou told reporters last month on the sidelines of a cybersecurity conference in Beijing.
Mr. Zuckerberg is making other apparent attempts to expand his familiarity with Chinese culture. This month he revealed on his Facebook page that he is reading The Three-Body Problem, a Chinese science-fiction book which won the Hugo award for science fiction in August.