BEIJING (AFP) - Facebook is banned in China, but the co-founder of the world's largest social network appears determined to win over hearts and minds in Beijing - in Mandarin.
Mark Zuckerberg surprised a hall full of Chinese and international students when he kicked off a question-and-answer session at the elite Tsinghua University with the words "Hello, everyone" in Chinese.
The 30-year-old head of the US-based site conducted the entire half-hour session in Mandarin, eliciting cheers and applause from the shocked crowd, a video of the event he posted Thursday showed.
Zuckerberg discussed topics including his philosophy on founding a company and his view of Chinese innovation, as well as more personal matters such as his favourite colour, favourite Chinese dish and the Chinese-American family of his wife, Priscilla Chan.
"I want to study Chinese culture," he said. "Studying the language helps me study the culture. So, I'm trying to learn the language.Also, I like a challenge."
Facebook has been blocked in mainland China since 2009, ranking it among a growing number of major global social media sites including Twitter, YouTube and Instagram that have been blacklisted by the ruling Communist Party.
Despite the ban, Facebook officials have made frequent trips to Beijing, speaking at tech conferences and meeting with business and government leaders.
The company has an office in Hong Kong, where Facebook is not blocked, and has also reportedly rented office space in Beijing in a bid to boost its business selling online ads to Chinese companies and local governments seeking to promote themselves abroad.
Zuckerberg himself has visited China four times, he said at Wednesday's event, and earlier this week he was named to the advisory board of Tsinghua's School of Economics and Management, a further step towards strengthening the company's China ties.
Asked about Facebook's plans in the country, he maintained: "We're already in China."
"We help Chinese companies increase their overseas customers; they use Facebook advertising to find more customers," he said. "So, we want to help different places in the world understand China."
Asked by the moderator what he believes is the secret to Facebook's success, he responded that "the most important thing is you can't give up".
"It's very difficult to develop a company," he said. "Most things won't go smoothly. You'll have to make some difficult decisions. You may have to lay some people off."
"If you don't believe in your mission, it's very easy to give up," he added. "Most founders give up. But the best ones don't."
He also opined that "the best companies aren't made because the founder wants to found a company, but because the founder wants to change the world".
During the question-and-answer session, Zuckerberg - who is red-green colourblind - said that his favourite colour is blue, the colour of the Facebook website.
He also drew laughs when he recalled a conversation with his wife about his Chinese language ability.
"One day, I asked her, 'Why is my Mandarin listening ability so bad?'" he told the crowd.
"She responded: 'You're also bad at listening in English.'"