Simple steamed bun helps cast Xi Jinping as a man of the people
Beijing Letter: The Chinese leader’s choice of workers’ food scores well with the ‘plain people of Beijing’
A group of young women on a rail training programme in Beijing queue outside the Qingfeng Steamed Bun Shop, visited by Chinese president Xi Jinping in recent weeks. Photograph: Clifford Coonan
Cooks at the Qingfeng Steamed Bun Shop in west Beijing can’t make the pork and scallion baozi (buns) fast enough since Xi Jinping visited for some traditional workers’ food and ate it among the workers.
The Chinese president’s visit late last month went down a treat, while web commentators were enthusiastic in their praise for Xi’s easy populism, after he left the government headquarters in nearby Zhongnanhai and ordered six steamed buns filled with pork and scallions, a bowl of stewed pig liver and a plate of green vegetables.
The bill came to 21 yuan, about €2.50, and he sat and scoffed it at one of the restaurant tables, just like any other working Joe.
While Xi is known as “President Xi” abroad, in China he is known as “Chairman Xi”, in the same way as the country’s late founding father Mao Zedong is known as “chairman Mao”.
The Chinese government is keen for its leaders to have the president title abroad, as it sounds, well, more presidential.
But in Qingfeng, it’s all about the chairman.
“Since Chairman Xi came here, the restaurant has had queues like this every day. We didn’t know the chairman was coming beforehand. We only recognised him when he was at the window picking up his food because he also waited in the line,” says a waitress.
It sounds like a “mom and pop” kind of place
but Qingfeng is actually a state-owned chain and we are told we have to go through headquarters if we want to interview other staff members.
It’s hard not to think of Flann O’Brien’s “Plain People of Ireland” when you see pretty much every customer in the place eating the same dishes Xi ordered during his visit.
Xi is building up a reputation as a more approachable kind of leader, a man of the people – something people in Ireland got a taste of when they saw how he handled a hurley in Croke Park during his visit.
There were rumours last year that Xi even took a taxi to ask the driver what was really going on in Beijing, although that may have been a hoax. While his predecessor Hu Jintao was seen as a technocrat, Xi’s public profile is high.
Xi gave a new year’s message on state television, from his office, with family photographs on display behind him. There is clearly a different brand of leadership at work.
Since he was formally installed at the National People’s Congress last March, he has been cementing his position at the top of the Communist Party and working on policy behind closed doors at the party plenum in
November. But since revealing his reform plans , he has been much more visible, suggesting that his authority at the helm of the party, the state and the military is robust.