The South China Morning Post reports a flurry in local Chinese media on Tuesday over President Xi Jinping telling a young woman in Wuhan she was beautiful. Far from the baby-kissing antics of Western politicians, China’s leaders generally hold themselves more robotically aloof.
“Hello beautiful,” Xi hailed local woman Guo Tingting during his visit to “Wuhan Citizens Home,” a government service centre on Monday, according to the Chutian Metropolis Daily.
“This is definitely better than calling women “comrades,” a microblogger wrote. Often used by communist party members when referring to fellow cadres, the word “comrade” has now taken on a more popular meaning in China – “homosexual”.
Guo, who was apparently exhilarated after her good looks were acknowledged by the president, told her work mates: “Who will dare not to call me a beautiful after this?,” media reports said. [Source]
The response on Chinese social media was mixed: some appreciated Xi’s casual tone, while others criticized it as frivolous.
At The Atlantic, Matt Schiavenza notes a recent photograph of Xi in the rain, with pants rolled up and umbrella in hand. Schiavenza reflects that this signals a break from the usual tone of Chinese politics:
The image itself is simple: President Xi, standing on the left, has rolled his pants up and is holding an umbrella — sensible, since it appears to be raining heavily. The message, though, is subtly powerful: Xi is behaving as an ordinary person, rather than an entitled official, would.
[…] President Xi does have a reputation for being personable — especially in comparison to his wooden predecessor, Hu Jintao. But China has also changed, too. Income inequality and corruption have sparked public anger in the country, and leading Communist Party officials have attracted attention for their displays of wealth and privilege. Having the president appear in a rain storm holding an umbrella doesn’t actually change anything, of course, but it at least shows a down-to-earth style that’s typically absent in Chinese politics. [Source]
Former premier Wen Jiabao was one notable exception, quickly gaining a reputation for being seen “clad in a casual jacket and sneakers”—Wen shared a penchant for New Balance footwear with Apple founder Steve Jobs—”chatting amiably and cordially with local folks and commoners in villages or disaster-afflicted areas.”