Gary Locke has become a minor celebrity in China for his modest, unassuming lifestyle, drawing the apparent ire of state-run outlets
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke walks out of his residence with his family before speaking to the media in Beijing / Reuters
It scarcely seems possible, but apparently some Chinese commentators are put out that the U.S. ambassador has garnered so much favorable press in his first month on the job. In recent days, the Chinese media have published a number of commentaries criticizing not only the ambassador but also some of their fellow journalists, who they believe are paying too much attention to Ambassador Locke's activities. Stripped to its essence, the criticism of Ambassador Locke is that he is a nice guy, who is simply too good at representing U.S. values. It would be laughable, if it didn't point to a real challenge in the Sino-American relationship.
The trouble began as soon as the ambassador was nominated. Anonymous postings on various Internet chat sites in China accused him of being a "fake foreign devil who cannot even speak Chinese" and a "guy who has forgotten his ancestors." Traitor was not an uncommon epithet.
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Yet when the ambassador arrived, the tide appeared to turn. A series of candid photos of the ambassador with his family--carrying their own luggage, riding in a minivan, and flying economy class -elicited a tidal wave of positive media and popular attention. An Air China attendant reported: "Yesterday Ambassador Locke took our plane en route to Beijing. He refused to be on the VIP traveler list, turned down a seat in the first class, and passed up an arranged ride home. Sitting in the economy class, he was polite and low-key." This comment was reposted 25,000 times, with netizens frequently mentioning the need for Chinese officials to learn from the ambassador's behavior.