China is afraid of Facebook, but Facebook's not afraid of China

When banned-in-China Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg visited last month, accompanied by long time girlfriend Priscilla Chan, a Chinese-American woman from Boston who went to Harvard wtih him back in the good old days, there were two signs that caught his attention as he toured Beijing.

One banner read, in English, “Warm welcome to China to the founder of the website 404 Not Found”. The other banner read “Warm Welcome to Mr. Part of Your Search Results Cannot be Displayed”.

Kidding. Actually, Zuckerberg had a good time in China and is now safely back at Facebook headquarters gently scratching his head and wondering what to make of it all. It sure is a big country, and he knows that now. It sure has a lot of people, and he knows that now, too. And damn, the Beijing winters are even colder than Boston and New York. Lessons learned by a peripatetic internet visionary on his way to world domination.

Kidding again. Zuckerberg met with a host of China’s top technology leaders in Beijing, fuelling massive media speculation that Facebook has its eyes on entering a market where it is blocked by Chinese Communist Party censors.

Seems China is afraid of Facebook, but Facebook’s not afraid of China.

Will he go in? Will Beijing extend an invite? Not in 2011 and probably not until China opens up enough to be called something like a full-fledged democracy. So don’t expect any Facebook members in China this century.

Taiwan, “the other China”, is another story. With millions of Facebook members in Taipei, fuelled by the complex Chinese writing characters that Taiwan still uses – in marked juxtaposition to the simplified characters mandated by the communist mandarins in China,

‘Farmville” and status updates are part of daily life in the democratic island nation just off the coast of China. But Taiwan has just 23 million people and China has 1.3 billion people, so Zuckerberg is, naturally, how shall we say, interested in that part of the Chinese-speaking world.

Do the math: China has 420 million internet users, more than any other nation on Earth. Do more math: Chinese social-networking sites have 176 million users and the number is going up every day.

More math: Facebook is available in 66 languages worldwide, and 77 percent of its more than 555 million active users are outside Obama’s America.

With Facebook being terminally blocked inside China, and with communist authorities never saying exactly why, Zuckerberg wants to know what’s cookin’. So he’s lookin’. Stay glued to your status updates.