Entrepreneur Peng Zhang, photo by Hojun Choi.

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Despite its growing reputation as a major economic powerhouse, U.S. investors and entrepreneurs have yet to embrace China as a viable market -namely due to its political restrictions and lack of transparency.

The “China Gathering” conference and trade show at this year’s SXSW festival, however, plans to challenge some of these doubts and fears by showcasing Chinese companies that are striving to instill a culture that resembles attitudes in Silicon Valley.

Vivian Forrest, the spouse of SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest, was responsible for organizing Saturday’s conference, which included three guest speaker panels.

Due to local censorship policies, Forrest said the Chinese startup community faces difficulties when trying to obtain information about festivals like SXSW. She said the conference serves to encourage more of these companies to make a presence at the festival.

“The language barrier is also probably one of the big reasons why not many Chinese companies come to SXSW,” Forrest said.

Entrepreneur Peng Zhang kicked off Saturday’s conference with a panel titled, “How Geek Culture Makes Social Impact in China.” He said the word “geek” has become a celebrated label among those who are tech-savvy in his home country.

“It really has nothing to do with being socially awkward; it’s about believing in technology and trying to use it in a meaningful way,”

Zhang helped spark this cultural change through his company GeekPark, which supports technology through providing resources and organizing community events for Chinese entrepreneurs.

As more entrepreneurs in China begin to seek more self-fulfillment and personal wealth through their ventures, Zhang said companies will vie for greater visibility and participation in the global market.

“Step by step, technology and ‘geek’ culture will bring about a different culture,” Zhang said. “It has already started, and I don’t think there is any way to turn around.”

Zhang, who told Silicon Hills News that Luke Skywalker is his favorite Star Wars character, said the popularity of American entertainment in China evidences compatibility between the two cultures.

“Entertainment is an interesting sector because it shows how similar American and Chinese values can be,” Zhang said. “However, technology is what sets the foundation for that understanding.”

In February, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that China could be moving away from its export-heavy model into a more consumer and service-based economy.

Yuan Zhou said his company, Zhihu, provides a platform in which individuals can host live question-and-answer sessions, and offers monetary incentives for those who are willing to contribute information.

Zhou, who was also a guest speaker on the panel, said that his company is among a new wave of services that have begun to focus on providing more advanced solutions to larger, more complex problems.

“One of our visions is to break down the barriers of communication, where people all around the world would be able to answer your questions. This is a very cool thing, and worth pursuing,” Zhou said.

The conference also held a reception at Austin City Hall in the evening, where attendees had another chance to talk with panelists.

Tomorrow will mark the first day of the trade show, which will be open to badge holders between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The exhibit will also be available on Wednesday, but is scheduled to close early at 2 p.m.