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'Dislikes' as Zuckerberg's charm offensive with Chinese Internet czar backfires

By Steven Jiang, CNN
updated 3:52 AM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mark Zuckerberg hosts China's Internet regulator at Facebook's California campus
  • Lu Wei banned Facebook, Twitter and You Tube in China
  • He's pictured sitting on Zuckerberg's desk, with book written by Xi Jinping
  • Chinese netizens have reacted with surprise and ridicule

Beijing (CNN) -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's latest charm offensive with China has generated decidedly mixed reviews.

Last week, he hosted a senior Chinese official whose office is responsible for banning Facebook-- along with other popular sites like YouTube and Twitter -- in China.

In photos posted on China.com.cn, a government-run web portal, top Internet regulator Lu Wei is seen seated in Zuckerberg's chair at Facebook's California campus while holding a book with Chinese President Xi Jinping's portrait adorning its cover.

The accompanying text explains that, when Lu found a copy of "Xi Jinping: The Governance of China" on Zuckerberg's desk, the young billionaire told the smiling Communist Party cadre in Mandarin:

"I also bought this book for my colleagues -- I want them to understand socialism with Chinese characteristics."

That quote has quickly gone viral online, along with a propaganda poster-style image that features Zuckerberg in a Chinese soldier's uniform clutching Xi's book to his chest.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kowtowing?

Chinese internet users have reacted with as much surprise and amusement as ridicule and disapproval.

Some sound sympathetic to Zuckerberg's strong desire to crack China's Internet market, the world's largest and a gaping hole in Facebook's global reach.

"He's a smart guy -- to conquer that market means to cooperate with the Chinese government and make money together," wrote one Twitter user.

Others, however, feel betrayed by Zuckerberg's apparent kowtowing to Beijing authorities, who have built one of the world's most extensive Internet filtering and censorship systems to restrict speech and crush dissent online.

"Even if you have read all the books by Xi or (late paramount leaders) Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong, it's not going to help you in China," said another commenter. "You're already late in the game and then there is censorship -- it would make more sense for you to work with Google to end Internet censorship."

China smitten?

China's state media has been smitten with Zuckerberg since his October visit to Beijing, where he wowed students at an elite university by answering their questions in accented but fluent Mandarin.

To rousing applause, the 30-year-old Internet entrepreneur said he took on the challenge of studying Mandarin to communicate with his wife's family and to better appreciate the Chinese culture.

He also traded his signature hoodie-and-jeans look for a suit and tie when he met Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan -- one of seven men who effectively rule the country -- at a heavily guarded leadership compound just west of Tiananmen Square.

"Wang and Lu should be Zuckerberg's sponsors for joining the Communist Party and Xi can grant his immediate approval for admission," tweeted Hu Jia, one of China's most prominent political dissidents, upon learning the Facebook co-founder's remarks to Lu about Xi's book.

"I once held up a sign that said 'regimes that block Facebook won't last long,'" he added. "Now I'm afraid Zuckerberg is making a deal or even forming an alliance with the enemy of the Internet."

For Hu and others, no Facebook at all is preferable to a Facebook with Chinese characteristics.

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