Facebook founder's Mandarin applauded

      Foreign visitors to China can create instant camaraderie and goodwill by speaking a few words of Mandarin. But Mark Zuckerberg went one step further - he conducted a half-hour public conversation in the Chinese language.

      The Facebook founder and CEO was supposed to open Wednesday's "dialogue" at Tsinghua University in Beijing with Chinese greetings like nihao (hello), but "he simply couldn't stop there", according to those present.

      His heavily accented Mandarin brought waves of hearty laughter from his audience, which cheered and applauded him. One participant said, "He struggled with his Chinese, but it lightened the atmosphere."

      More than anything, Zuckerberg's audience was pleasantly surprised by his efforts to master the Chinese language, which he described as "very challenging".

      Zuckerberg said he started to study Chinese in 2010 and has practiced it each day.

      He has a few things in his favor - his wife, Priscilla Chan, is Chinese-American and her grandmother speaks only Chinese.

      Asked if his or his wife's Chinese is better, Zuckerberg said he knows more words but his wife understands the language better. "I asked her why my listening ability is not as good as hers, and she said my listening of English is not that good either."

      He also referred to the allure of Chinese culture, in which he is very interested. Of course, such words can be dismissed as being purely diplomatic, but he backed this up with an example.

      Zuckerberg has taken a liking to martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia, epitomized in the Jet Li movie Fearless, and he took a special trip to Tianjin, Huo's hometown.

      The Facebook chief was making his fourth trip to China for a meeting of Tsinghua University management school's advisory board, to which he was invited as a member. "I want to study and support China's education with this opportunity," he said.

      He is also recruiting Chinese talent. "Last month, we recruited 20 graduates, and there'll be more next year," he said.

      Zuckerberg offered a few tips to Chinese entrepreneurs, saying, "The best companies in the world were started not because the founders wanted to be entrepreneurial, but because they wanted to change the world.

      "If you want a business first and then generate some ideas, you may not know which ideas are good; but if you have ideas first and then create a business, you'll be more likely to succeed."

      Before Zuckerberg spoke, Chinese students turned to their international peers and asked them to help out if they could not understand his English. "But the situation was reversed," one Chinese student said. "They asked us to translate into English."