A popularity tour has Beijing's most powerful men munching on instant noodles and testing out their green thumbs.
Glad-handing with the locals. Kissing babies. Eating fast food. These are tried and true ways that American politicians seek to advertise their common touch; but when China's new leaders employ these methods, it is greeted as a pleasant surprise.
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Xi Jinping, China's new leader, has recently embarked on a low-key barnstorming of China's entrepreneurial south. The mere fact of Xi's visit is exciting to Chinese liberals, echoing as it does the "Southern Tour" of reformist leader Deng Xiaoping in 1992, an early prelude to China's market liberalization.
But Xi is winning points for style as well as substance. Although China's mainstream media has remained largely silent about the tour, online chatter has focused on the demeanor of China's new president. According to Hong Kong University's Weiboscope, the most-shared image among prominent users of Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, is currently the below photo collage taken by user Lu Yaming. In his Weibo post, Lu said he was politely asked not to cross a Shenzhen city street as a number of busses and police cars passed by. The road was not closed to traffic, and no sirens sounded. Xi was clearly visible, waving to onlookers. In another photo taken by an Internet reporter for portal takungpao.cn, Xi can be seen smiling and holding a baby aloft.
Commenting by the tens of thousands, Chinese netizens seemed heartened by Xi's seeming ability to get "close to the people." A number openly worried about Xi's safety, the potential price of increasing exposure and transparency. But as @大曹0512 wrote, "Good officials don't fear danger. The real danger [occurs] if they become [too] removed from common folks."