On Thursday, the pro-Beijing, Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported that President Xi Jinping had surreptitiously taken a cab ride in Beijing last month and recounted the cab driver’s recollection of their conversation. The paper soon set up a special page about the cab ride with a map and a photo of Xi’s receipt. Xinhua confirmed the report, which brought to mind tales of Chinese emperors traveling incognito among their people centuries ago. Some foreign media picked up the story. From NPR blog:
At first it seemed that Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong daily, had a big scoop, with its tale of how taxi driver Guo Lixin had picked up Xi and ferried him to the Diaoyutai hotel, part of the state guesthouse.
The story claimed the Guo realized this was no ordinary fare when – in response to the taxi driver’s complaints about the pollution — the mystery passenger launched into a spirited defense of government policy.
According to the newspaper, the driver asked, “Has anyone ever said that you look like General Secretary Xi?” Guo’s passenger then chuckled, saying, “You are the first one to ever recognize me.”
Weibo went wild. From the South China Morning Post:
The unusual story drew a warm response from Chinese social media users, with overwhelming praise for Xi’s apparent easy-going, down-to-earth manners, as well as his candour in openly addressing social issues such as pollution in his conversation with the driver.
But not everyone was impressed.
“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe goes to convenience stores to buy drinks all the time. This is no news at all in Japan,” wrote a weibo user. “This smells strongly of the class consciousness in Chinese people’s minds.”
Other sarcastic responders made jokes about the incident.
“Beijing police has alerted the public that some suspects have been posing as state leaders to swindle taxi drivers, passing out fake 30-yuan notes as taxi fares,” read one joke. There are no 30-yuan banknotes in China.
The report generated suspicions among some Chinese readers almost from the start, in part because Xi supposedly hailed and got a taxi at rush hour on a Friday in Beijing, a usually difficult time to find a cab. A call to the Shengdali taxi company, where Guo supposedly works, to ask about Xi’s alleged ride was answered by a woman who said, “I don’t know about this,” and then hung up.
It wasn’t clear how a newspaper that has close links to China’s ruling Communist Party and is usually considered authoritative on political matters would run a false report, especially one so apparently bizarre.
The story inspired poetry on Twitter:
So Xi’s taxi ride was a fake&Xinhua’s stepped hard on the brakePropaganda is fineTill it crosses a line:Much better aloof and opaque
— Leo Lewis (@Urbandirt) April 18, 2013