Tens of millions of Chinese web users paid tribute to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs yesterday in an unprecedented show of collective grief over the death of a foreign businessperson. The news of Jobs’ death broke on Thursday morning local time and by early evening over 36 million people had left posts on a memorial page hosted by China’s popular Twitter-equivalent Sina Weibo.
Apple products are popular status symbols in China, where earlier this year a fight broke out at a Beijing store on the day the iPad 2 was released, causing part of the shop front to shatter. Among the first to post a message on Sina Weibo was Lee Kai-Fu, founder of technology incubator Innovation Works and former president of Google China. “Bon voyage, Master Jobs,” Lee wrote. “Your products changed the world and your thinking influenced a generation.”
In a recurrent theme some said they were saddened despite the fact that Jobs was from the United States – a country which many of China’s more nationalist types now see as an economic and military adversary.
“It’s rare that the death of a foreigner could get our sincere condolences,” netizen Chenbobofu wrote.
In fact, the scale of the Chinese reaction was all the more surprising when you consider that Jobs himself appeared somewhat oblivious of China. Unlike many top international CEOs he did not go out of his way to court Chinese opinion (indeed WiC is unaware of a single trip he made to the country).
For most netizens it mattered not. Their admiration of the tech titan has grown in recent years thanks to his unique combination of creativity, chic design and business acumen. Indeed, Jobs touches a raw nerve in Chinese society, often sparking debates about how China can’t produce anyone like him, thanks to its ‘copycat culture’ and rigid education system.
More darkly, some web posts also appeared that showed apparent instructions to members of the media from propaganda departments not to “overhype” Jobs’ death (why exactly this would be a problem can only be guessed at). However, these were soon “harmonised” – a netizen euphemism for being deleted by the authorities.
Tributes to Jobs were paid by Barack Obama, Russia’s President Medvedev and UK leader David Cameron. But so far nothing from China’s Hu Jintao.
© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.
Sponsored by HSBC.
The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.