The Chinese term weiren (伟人) is very rarely used to describe a living person – reserved instead for a select few of history’s giants like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
So it was a mark of genuine distinction when Terry Gou employed it to describe Steve Jobs earlier this summer.
Weiren means ‘great man’ and the billionaire Foxconn boss – head of a company making many of Apple’s products – mentioned it as part of a speech lavishing praise on the American.
Gou noted that, for all of his own business success, he could not compare himself to Jobs.
Further, he admired how Jobs continued to lead Apple despite suffering from illness. “I am convinced that he is doing this because he is dedicated to his ideals and his vision, not out of any need to make more money,” was Gou’s verdict.
But even the great man could put work before health for so long. Hence the announcement last week that he would step down as Apple CEO (although remain as chairman).
This sparked commentary around the world on Apple’s future minus its charismatic leader – and some of the noisiest debate was on China’s web.
In response to the news, Sina’s Weibo (a local Twitter-like service) was deluged with comments. Blogger Xia Jingtao wrote: “There will not be a second Steve just like there will not be a second Bill Gates. The two IT giants have single-handedly changed the lifestyle of almost a majority of people on earth!”
A writer going by the pseudonym Forceful Microblog was more literary in his praise: “So far, three Apples have changed the world: one tempted Eve, one hit Newton and one is in the hands of Steve Jobs. The three Apples represent three phases: sexual desire, knowledge and tricks, and the ladder of human progress. Jobs has gone, will you continue to buy the iPhone 5?”
Online surveys asked a similar question. Would Apple’s business suffer as result of its leader’s retirement from the frontline? After all, Jobs could be said to have constituted the Californian firm’s DNA.
Of the 8,500 Chinese who participated in one poll, 48% said they would still buy the iPhone 5 after Jobs resignation, since it was developed by him; and 32% said they will continue to buy Apple products regardless. However, 20% said they wouldn’t be buying Apple devices any longer.
Taking a different tack, social commentator Wang Chuantao said this was an opportune time for the Chinese economy to learn from Jobs. Describing the culture of innovation Jobs fostered at Apple, Wang lamented the lack of comparable innovative thinking in China.
“We are called a copycat country,” wrote Wang the People’s Daily website. “There will be no Jobs in China and no Apple in China without innovation.”
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