The charismatic chief executive of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi was uncharacteristically nervous when he went onstage in New Delhi during the firm’s first international launch.
“Hello, how are you?” Lei Jun asked the Indian audience last week.
It was his first time using English in a product launch.
“India Mi fans, I’m very happy to be in China,” he said — then corrected himself, “to be in India”.
The crowd of Indian Xiaomi fans laughed but ultimately roared its welcome, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Then Lei announced a free Xiaomi smart wristband for each member of the audience.
To pump up their enthusiasm, he shouted, “Are you OK?” then louder, “Are you OK?”
That phrase turned into an overnight meme on Chinese social media, where netizens discussed the hurdles Chinese executives face in the English-speaking global marketplace.
Lei, Xiaomi’s founder, who launches products in China with great fanfare and showmanship, has in the past been compared to Apple’s legendary founder Steve Jobs.
This time, Lei was compared online — unfavorably – with Mark Zuckerberg.
The Facebook co-founder impressed an audience at Tsinghua University in Beijing last autumn, delivering a speech and answering questions in Mandarin.
“If Steve Jobs and Tim Cook say simple words like ‘how are you’ and ‘thank you’ in Chinese, you’d be excited and encouraging. Americans wouldn’t laugh at them, either,” wrote one user on the Weibo microblogging site.
A video of Lei’s speech in English in New Delhi uploaded to the website Youku on Monday drew more than 440,000 views within 24 hours.
It became such a hot topic on Weibo that Xiaomi president Lin Bin began a keynote speech at a Beijing conference Tuesday with comments on his boss’s English.
“Everyone thinks it’s pretty funny,” Lin said. “But from this event, what I see is the evidence of a Chinese entrepreneur founding and building a company and getting stronger.
“To be able to stand on the stage and self-confidently say, ‘Are you OK?’ shows the entrepreneur’s confidence.”
Some posts on Weibo made fun of Lei’s speech, but many were supportive.
More than 20,000 people shared one post of the video link captioned with “Don’t have the heart to watch it. Laugh to tears!”
But the most popular comment on that post was, “Having courage like this, his success doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Lei did not seem perturbed by the online hubbub over his English.
“In China’s education system, we actually studied English from middle school all the way through college,” he told the newspaper.
“My English test scores were all very good, but it turns out it was only very good in the tests.”
Lei later posted on Weibo, “I never imagined the video would go viral in China and the whole nation would be laughing.”
Some commenters jokingly responded, “Are you OK?”
Lei updated his post with “Now there are more and more international Xiaomi fans. Indeed, I should learn English well and not let you down! Cheers!”
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