Mark Zuckerberg Draws Heavy Criticism over Beijing Smog Jog During China Visit
Zuckerberg visited Beijing last week, and on Friday posted a picture of himself jogging through Tienanmen Square, followed by a small clutch of denizens. Now, there are a number of problems with this, such as the looming image of Mao Zedong, a man deservedly recognised as a tyrannical, mass-murdering despot pretty much everywhere except China, and only because anyone who mentions it there gets reprimanded in some way or another.
As it turned out, though, the aspect of the image that drew the most criticism was the fact that the smog in the city that day had reached 'dangerously high levels', according to The National Meteorological Center. Beijing is the 76th most polluted city in the world, according to official records, which might not sound that bad, but almost every other city above, or even just below it it is in an LEDC. Many citizens wear masks all the time anyway, but on the days when you could practically chew the air, spit it out and leave a dark brown stain on the ground, nearly everyone does, and they sure as hell don't jog.
Zuck's pearly whites were fully on display as he pretended to have fun romping across the site of one of the worst massacres in recent human history. Accordingly, many Chinese users - who had likely made a serious effort to angle around The Great Firewall just to use Facebook in the first place - were quick to call him out. The root of the criticism seemed to be that he was demonstrating a lack of understanding about the country he seems to be so interested in, and that as a result, his appreciation of it felt unnatural and false.
In a way, that makes one of his other pit-stops in the city that much more unsettling. While there, he had a meeting with Liu Yunshan - China's Chief of Propaganda. The title tells you enough by itself, but it's also worth noting that this is the man who said that internet users shouldn't cross the "baseline" when talking about national issues. In layman's terms - keep your mouth shut, or else. China recently resolved to regulate public internet usage even more strictly, and went on a spree of account banning on Weibo and WeChat.
Of course, Zuckerberg probably isn't overly fussed about what the public do and do not want, he's just got gleaming monthly active user figures glimmering behind his eyes. His previous attempts to woo China into a partnership have been less direct, but often more grotesque. He very deliberately placed president Xi Jinping's book in full view during a press shoot, made a lot of noise about lending it to his colleagues, and has been very public about the fact that he's learning Mandarin. He even asked Xi to bestow his then unborn daughter with an honorary Chinese name in 2014, a request which was flatly refused.
This might seem more considered, but a bit of digging reveals it to be little more than posturing. Liu has been in charge of propaganda development for the Xi administration since about 2002, but he stopped doing that in 2012. Since then he's really just been on interference duty, having played a big role in cleaning up the mess after the political unrest in Shanxi, and he also led the Chinese delegate which visited North Korea last year, famously embracing Kim Jong-Un in an almost unbearably cringe-worthy press shot. He's set to retire next year, so really anything he could have done to progress the relationship between China and Facebook has been absent from his job description for years.
One imagines that, if they're honest, what the Chinese really want from Facebook is access to user data, which they won't get. In fact, any kind of partnership between the Chinese government and Facebook which doesn't see the former exerting an almost overwhelming amount of control over the latter seems more or less impossible at this stage. Seems like Zuckerberg travelled all that way, and risked lung cancer, for nothing.
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum
Mark Zuckerberg Draws Heavy Criticism over Beijing Smog Jog During China Visit Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Rating: