New China Envoy’s Airport Antics Rile Chinese Internet


Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
New U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke addresses the media with his wife Mona (2nd R) and their children Dylan (L-aged 12), Madeline (2nd R-aged 6) and Emily (R-aged 14) in the courtyard of his residence on August 14, 2011 in Beijing, China.
Sina Weibo
A photo of U.S. China envoy Gary Locke ordering coffee posted to Sina Weibo by advertising executive Tang Chaohui on Friday, August 12, 2011

Yet another American politician has caused a stir online after photos of him doing shocking things surfaced on a microblogging service.

The politician: newly sworn-in China envoy Gary Locke. The microblogging service: China’s Sina Weibo.

The surprising behavior: Buying his own coffee and carrying his own luggage before flying to Beijing.

In a country where government officials are routinely pilloried for being lazy and imperious, the pictures of Mr. Locke humbly laboring on his own behalf have turned the ambassador into something of a hero.

The most popular image, posted to Weibo on Friday by Tang Chaohui, the CEO of an advertising software company called adSage, shows Mr. Locke and his 7-year-old daughter, Madeline, ordering a coffee at a Starbucks in the Seattle Airport. In a separate posting, Mr. Tang wrote that Mr. Locke tried to use a coupon but was rebuffed by Starbucks staff. “The ambassador didn’t get mad, but instead smiled, took it back and pulled out his credit card. This American barista didn’t give the Ambassador to China an ounce of face.”

The photo and coupon comment had been reposted a total of nearly 40,000 times and attracted more than 8,200 comments by Monday evening.

Among the comments, many praised Mr. Locke for acting like a regular person, while some joked that the ambassador’s attempt to use a coupon was a sign of America’s economic decline. At least one commentator was overcome with mock confusion.

“This ambassador, he’s even less imposing than a village Party chief,” Tongji University professor and culture critic Wang Shaoyu, wrote on his verified Weibo account. “What is the meaning of this?”

“This is what a government official who serves the people should look like,” wrote Weibo user JayRona, while another user, Lao Lianr, quipped: “He may be Chinese-American, but he doesn’t understand China’s national condition.”

In other words, by fetching his own cup of joe and lugging his own carry-on, Mr. Locke has become the anti-Anthony Weiner.

This isn’t the first time a U.S. official’s willingness to undergo such hardship has attracted notice on the Chinese Internet. Weibo and other social media websites in China are host to numerous images that juxtapose photos of Chinese officials being shielded from the rain by umbrella-wielding underlings with images of a drenched Barack Obama braving the elements while his staff take shelter.

Nor have all Weibo users been enamored with Mr. Locke’s embrace of mundane tasks.

“Maybe the majority of Chinese people’s have a lot of high hopes with the arrival of Ambassador Locke, but remember, he’s representing the interests of the U.S.,” wrote Weibo user annieXiaXia, echoing an opinion expressed widely on the site after Mr. Locke’s nomination was announced in March.

Of course, as the representative of China’s largest debtor at a time of less-than-perfect sovereign credit ratings, Mr. Locke is likely to maintain a humble stance for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, in a news conference on Sunday — his first since arriving in Beijing — the new ambassador offered a statement that could be read as the diplomatic equivalent of carrying one’s own backpack. The fact that U.S. Treasurys are still finding buyers despite this month’s historic S&P downgrade, he said, was “a clear indication that investment in the United States is safe, secure and that the economy, while having its challenges, is still strong.”

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