When Will Facebook Marry China?
Mark Zuckerberg is all over the news these days. The 28-year-old CEO of Facebook married Priscilla Chan on May 20, one day after his company began trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market which makes his net worth soar to $19.1 billion.
Chan and Zuckerberg met as undergraduate students at Harvard University in 2004. Zuckergberg dropped out to start Facebook while Chan finished her degree and became a pediatrician. The couple had a very low-ley wedding in their own backyard with only a small number of family members and friends presented. Later Zuckerberg changed his status to “married” on his Facebook page.
The bride with Chinese descendent soon drew attention from her country of origin. The “Chinese Twitter”—Weibo.com—dug out Chan’s personal information such as her family was originally from Xuzhou, a city in China’s Jiangsu Province; and that the two were first met at a party back in school and both were waiting in line to use the bathroom. The excitement of the fact that Facebook’s CEO married a Chinese-American prevailed all over Weibo, which also caused some other users feeling annoyed as they think there shouldn’t be any association between Zuckerberg’s marriage to Chan and the feeling of “national pride.”
With this I agree, as Chan is just another Chinese-American who "happened" to be the wife of the CEO of Facebook. Hence, I am not going to discuss anything about her country of origin or Chinese people’s “proud” feeling. However, what I see as so ironic about Chinese Internet users’ reaction to this news is the fact that China is still one of a few countries that do not have access to Facebook.
Forbes contributor Karsten Strauss wrote an article “Facebook and the China Problem” on May 18, questioning right at the beginning, “But what of the issues and strategies Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook will have to face after all of the fireworks have faded? Namely China?”
Even though joining Nasdaq makes Facebook’s value up to $104 billion, it still hasn’t conquered one of the world’s biggest markets. Facebook has been blocked in China for years and there is still no indication of its official launch in China. Meanwhile, like the “Chinese Twitter,” Facebook also has its Chinese equivalent called Renren.com, which not only has an almost identical appearance as Facebook but also went IPO even a year before Facebook did. With the popularity of Weibo and Renren in China right now, it seems that even if Facebook could eventually enter China, it is still hard to take over the majority of the market. However, there is indeed a longing for Facebook in China, especially among the educated population who has some awareness of the disadvantage of China’s Internet censorship.
In fact, last December, Zuckerberg and his then girlfriend Chan visited China and toured several biggest websites in the country such as Alibaba and Tencent. He and Chan were again spotted walking in Shanghai early this March (not to mention that Zuckerberg notes on his Facebook that he has been learning Mandarin Chinese since 2010). Even though he claimed that they were just on holiday for both occasions, rumors, or rather, expectations had it that the trips might indicate Facebook’s potential connection with China. Major media such as The New York Times and USA Today covered the news and the former even used the headline “Zuckerberg in China: Let the Rumors Begin” to indicate how much attention was paid to Facebook’s interaction with China.
Unfortunately, at this point China may not really be a central focus of Zuckerberg and Facebook; and, disappointing to those Chinese fans, Zuckerberg's marriage with a Chinese-American will probably not be any kind of pushing force for Facebook’s quicker launch in China. When Charlie Rose interviewed Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook) last November, Sandberg said that, “You know, if your mission is to connect the entire world for all the reasons we’ve been talking about, you can’t connect the whole world and not China.” However, the next thing she said was, “That’s not something we’re working on or focused on right now.” And Zuckerberg added, “For right now, we’re not available [in China], and we don’t have an immediate path to become available. These are not policy decisions we have to make.” In other words, the real breakthrough moment will have to be Chinese officials decision to open its "firewall."
So, for those who are waiting for Facebook's marriage with China after its CEO married Chan, in a short run this may not happen. And even if it happened soon, it is hard to envision if that will be a compromise or a real, healthy investment in the Chinese market, as Forbes contributor Strauss questioned in the end of his article:
"...And if it doesn’t happen at all, would Zuckerberg sign off on the censorship of its content to break into the Chinese market? In the long run, does Facebook really even need China?"