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Chinese Netizens React to Steve Jobs’ Resignation

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UPDATE: Read our round-up of reactions from around the world wide web to Steve Jobs’ passing.

By now, news of Steve Jobs‘ resignation as CEO of Apple is everywhere. The consequences snowballed quickly as skeptical analysts considered Job’s successor Tim Cook and his ability to sustain the company’s recent position as the most valuable company in the world. One perceptive tweeter summarized Wednesday night’s sudden events thusly: “One man switches from CEO to a somewhat less active chairman. Apple falls 7 percent, Foxconn (supplier) down 2 percent, Samsung up 3 percent, HTC up 3 percent. That’s power.”

But how did people in China, living across the sea from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, react to the news?

In a word, wildly. Sina Weibo set up a special page especially for incoming web traffic related to Steve Jobs’ resignation. The topic quickly began to trend at #1 on the popular microblogging site, with over 1.6 million comments posted in response to the news. When an online poll was set up to ask users, “Will you buy Apple products now Steve Jobs is no longer CEO?”, nearly 20 percent of the 5,000 respondents said they would not. 49 percent reported that they’d at least wait for the iPhone 5.

In another survey asking, “How do you think Steve Jobs’ resignation will affect Apple?”, more than 2,600 people — about half of the respondents — answered that they thought the company would lose its “soul”. An additional 1,800 people (35 percent) answered that the consequences would be limited, so long as Jobs stayed with the company.

If anything, we’re impressed by the loyalty that the Steve Jobs auteur brand has built, especially considering that Chinese consumers might already be able to pick up a shanzhai copy of his products for dirt cheap prices.

Whatever the reasons are for Jobs’ resignation, the news has nevertheless sent China’s netizen community reeling into deep reflection. Is one person really responsible for Apple’s “soul”? Or perhaps more concretely, is one person really responsible for Apple company’s direction and financial success? Quoted by the Atlantic Wire, social commentator Wang Chuantao had this to say about China’s inability to produce its own Steve Jobs:

What’s shameful for China is that innovation is like a fairy tale in this country. When Jobs and his colleagues are developing new products one after another, factories in southern China are satisfied with being a copycat phone production line… The “factory of the world” cannot realize its technology dreams.

Opinions on the future of Apple is, to say the least, divided. One Weibo user quoted in the China Real Time Report suggested that true success is not only driven by leaders, but the people as well — a comment which made for a juicy national metaphor:

I believe that in the last few years, Apple has already developed its own soul as a company. It’s the same as with a prosperous nation: You can’t rely solely on one generation of leaders. You need to tap the soul of the people.

However, it’s clear that when it comes to Apple, the “soul” of China’s people is a very specific contingent. Apple’s hip ostentatiousness appeals to the noveau riche of Chinese consumers, who purchase and display brand names as a way of demonstrating their wealth. Some Weibo users have not been as kind when pointing out this aspect of the Apple phenomenon. According to one particularly acerbic commenter:

So far, three apples have changed the world: one tempted Eve, one awoke Newton, and one was held by Steve Jobs. These three apples represent three phases: to have sexual desire, to pursue knowledge, and zhuang bi (vulgar slang used to describe someone being obnoxiously pretentious). This is the ladder of human progress. We are already expanding into the highest realm of desire! With Jobs gone, will you still buy the iPhone 5?

And let us not forget those who suffer in the underbelly of China’s new prosperity: take the Foxconn workers, for example, whose allegedly horrible working conditions have incited demonstrations in Hong Kong as recently as this past May. In an e-mail statement to Bloomberg, the controversial Taiwanese supplier of iPads and iPhones wrote that it “wishes Steve Jobs will get well” and “[expects] Apple will perform well in the future.”

The phrase ”will get well” has become cause for alarm. As has been the case elsewhere, Chinese netizens speculated on the state of Jobs’ health. Recall that in 2004, Jobs announced that he had a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer that he has received two surgeries for in the years since.

So when Jobs alluded to his incapacity to continue in his role at the company, people began to wonder if ailing health had finally caught up to the Apple titan. One photo widely circulating on Weibo (and indeed the greater web) depicts a frail Steve Jobs needing to be propped up by another man:

Hu Yanping was one of many Weibo commenters to express their concern for the ex-CEO’s well-being:

At this moment, I don’t care about Apple. I don’t care about Cook. I don’t care about the iPhone. I don’t care about the iPad. I don’t care about the iMac. I don’t care about iOS. I don’t care about how Microsoft, Google, Nokia, HTC, and others see this as a blessing in disguise. I only care about a person’s health. I hope he can beat pancreatic cancer and have more time to spend with his family, without disturbance or ridicule. This is not about Apple.

We leave you with a video of Steve Jobs’ excellent 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, where he tells students:

If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

(Note: Some online comments have been edited for clarity.)


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