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How China's tech bosses dance

How China's tech bosses dance

It's not just Elon Musk: China's tech bosses have a thing for dancing

From Jack Ma to Pony Ma, the heads of Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and Xiaomi have all been happy to bust a move at public events

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

How weird can it be to watch a tech executive dance in public? Weird enough for the person himself to label it “NSFW” (not safe for work).

That’s what Tesla CEO Elon Musk did when he shared a video on Twitter of him busting out some awkward moves during the launch of the Model Y electric vehicle in Shanghai on Tuesday.
During the dance, Musk stripped off his jacket on stage to show off a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of his Tesla Gigafactory in China. The performance was soon trending on Weibo under the hashtag “Elon Musk’s weird dance.”

But Musk is hardly the only big tech boss who’s tried to woo China with his dancing. In fact, some of the country’s biggest tech founders have been displaying their dancing skills for years, with varying degrees of success.

Before Musk, another foreign tech boss took to the stage and managed to impress the audience by dancing disco and singing in Chinese. Xiaomi’s former global vice president Hugo Barra showed up at a launch event in Taiwan in full 1970s garb, performing a hit from Taipei pop star Wu Bai for fans of the smartphone brand.

How Xiaomi forged a unique path

Xiaomi poached Barra from Google in 2013, but he left the Chinese company in 2017 to head Facebook’s VR division. To the best of our knowledge, he hasn’t worn his dance shoes at a public Facebook event… yet.

How do you endear yourself to a Chinese audience? Learn their pop hits, of course. (Picture: Eric Tseng/YouTube)

Barra’s not even the only Xiaomi executive to dance for fans. Lei Jun, founder of the Beijing-based smartphone brand, has also tried out some of his own dance moves.

Unfortunately, Lei’s attempt to shuffle at the China Entrepreneur Club 2018 meeting wasn’t as brilliant as Barra’s disco. In fact, one of the Weibo comments about the dance was Xiaomi’s unofficial motto: “Are you OK?” The phrase became popular after Lei’s equally memorable attempt to speak English at a launch event in India in 2015.

How Lei Jun plans to build Xiaomi into a global empire

If Lei Jun proves anything, it’s that Chinese tech founders aren’t scared to take on a new challenge. Even bosses who are known to be reserved in public like Pony Ma, the founder of entertainment and social media empire Tencent, can cut loose when it comes to bonding with employees.

Pony Ma, the tycoon behind China's social media and gaming giant Tencent

Chinese companies have a habit of making a big deal of their yearly corporate celebrations, which include games and performances. This means that it wasn’t so strange when a video came out featuring one of the richest men in China dancing to a theme song of the hit reality show Produce 101 at one such event.
Dashing Baidu founder Robin Li dazzling the ladies on a CCTV-produced TV show in 2009. (Picture: Yong Le Hui)
But some tech bosses in China really put their heart and soul into it. Robin Li, founder of Chinese search company Baidu, appeared on popular TV shows performing the tango. And he didn’t dance in an ordinary company T-shirt like Musk -- he dressed up as a European prince.

How Baidu's Robin Li founded China's answer to Google

“I’m actually a dancer,” Li reportedly once said, as if leading one of China’s largest tech firms was just a side job.

However, none of China’s tech billionaire dancers can compare with Jack Ma, the founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba. One of his more eye-popping performances was at Alibaba’s 2017 annual party, where Ma impersonated Michael Jackson.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

Alibaba’s Jack Ma wowed the audience with his Michael Jackson impersonation at a 2017 annual company gathering. (Picture: AFP)
But Ma isn’t just a dancer. He also starred in his own kung-fu movies, sang at a music festival, married 102 couples, and survived a debate with Elon Musk.

From failing student to Alibaba founder: The story of Jack Ma

And with Musk leading the way, hopefully we will see more western tech executives busting a move on stage, if not for anything else than to get closer to their Chinese buyers.

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