Lei Jun, the founder and CEO of Chinese tech firm Xiaomi, is the latest public figure to be autotuned.
The company unveiled its latest smartphone, the Mi 4i, which is specially designed for the Indian market, in New Delhi on April 24. Near the end of the launch event, Lei joined Vice President of International Hugo Barra on stage and announced that they would give everyone in the audience one of the brand's fitness trackers called Mi Band. As the crowd cheered, Lei asked the gathered Indian Mi fans in English, “Are you OK?” — a phrase which usually implies something is wrong. Lei probably meant “Do you like that?” or “Are you happy?”
Mr. Lemon, an user on Chinese cartoon video website BiliBili, remixed that phrase and others to the tune of German singer Lou Bega’s “Angelina,” creating a music video titled “Shaking with Boss Lei Jun! Are you OK?” The video has since gone viral on the Chinese web:
Responding to the attention that his English-language address was receiving, Lei wrote three days later on microblogging platform Sina Weibo:
At the launch event last Thursday, over which Hugo Barra presided, I wanted to delight Indian Mi fans by speaking a bit of English. It never occurred to me that [my speech] video would rapidly spread across the country and amuse my fellow Chinese [Awkward Emoji][Awkward Emoji][Awkward Emoji]
As Mi fans grow in numbers around the globe, indeed, I should learn English well, and I will not disappoint everyone. Cheer up!
Many Chinese netizens have poked fun at Lei's English in the comments section of his post, like this one:
Boss Lei, forget about it. The English teacher next to our classroom back then had a same teaching style as you demonstrated! [Giggle Emoji]
Wang Sicong, the celebrity son of Asia’s richest person Wang Jianlin whose fortune was estimated over $35 billion, even commented on Lei's language skills:
I advise entrepreneurs who have poor English to not disgrace themselves overseas.
Wang's remark stirred a flurry of responses rebutting his criticism, as “Allen-Running” wrote:
雷军是程序员出生，加入了求伯君的金山，写出了 WPS (求伯君的 WPS 是 DOS下的， Windows 下的 WPS 主要是雷军写的)，扛起了国产软件的大旗，虽然被盗版软件逼得差点破产，但是人家成功了！这么个白手起家的人物，那些靠爹吃饭的人有什么资格嘲笑他？没错，我指的就是王思聪！
Lei Jun was a programmer who joined KingSoft, founded by Qiu Bojun. He developed word processing software WPS (WPS for DOS was made by Qiu Bojun, its Windows version largely made by Lei Jun.) and led the domestic software industry at the time. Though pirate software nearly forced [KingSoft] to go bankrupt, the company still succeeded! He is self-made man, do these people who relied on their fathers have the qualifications to laugh at him? Right, I'm talking about you, Wang Sicong!
Soon after, Wang deleted his previous post and apologised:
对昨晚关于雷布斯的微博致歉，毕竟上一代的企业家没有我们这代人的条件。雷总，Are you OK？下次需要翻译你私信我。
I apologise for the post about Lei Jun last night. Earlier generations weren't given the same education as us. Boss Lei, are you OK? Send me a private message if you need help with translation next time.
Is English important for Chinese companies going abroad?
Lei’s poor English did not seem to damp Indian Mi fans’ enthusiasm for the India-tailored smartphone, nor does it seem to have gotten in the way of his pugnaciously global ambition.
When Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook, visited China in 2014 and stumbled through Chinese during a talk at the Tsinghua University, the audiences still responded positively.
Though, with Chinese companies increasingly wading into oversea markets, part of their success hinges on how well they convey selling points in an understandable way to reach targeted markets.
Echoing Lei's comment on the importance of learning English for the global market, Machonoki contended:
Learning English well is necessary. Many people often think, why can’t we just let everyone in the world learn Chinese, which implies Chinese still lack qualifications! English has the lingua franca of the world, you have no right to reject it. Lei Jun is a successful figure realizing one of his shortcomings, which should be praised. As for Wang Sicong, just ignore him.
“More companies should consider how to improve their global reach. Their English websites too often today tend to read like too much “blah, blah, blah,” said Huang Youyi in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. He is a prominent Chinese translator who had translated and interpreted for three Chinese presidents and also participated in translating the book “Xi Jinping: the Governance of China.”
“They know how to speak to 1.3 billion Chinese people but do not know how to speak to the world’s other 5.7 billion people,” Huang added.