A photo of the new U.S. ambassador to China carrying his own backpack and ordering his own coffee at an airport has charmed Chinese citizens not used to such frugality from their officials.
ZhaoHui Tang, a businessman from Bellevue, Washington state, snapped the photo Friday on his iPhone when he spotted Gary Locke wearing a backpack at the counter of an airport Starbucks. Locke is the first Chinese-American ambassador to China and a former governor of Washington state.
Tang uploaded the photo to the Chinese social media network Sina Weibo because he thought it was cool to run into the new ambassador at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
He didn't expect it to generate 40,000 reposts and thousands of comments.
"This is something unbelievable in China," said Tang, a Chinese-American citizen. "Even for low-ranking officials, we don't do things for ourselves. Someone goes to buy the coffee for them. Someone carries their bags for them."
Locke tried to use a coupon or voucher for the coffee, but the barista rejected it, Tang said. The ambassador then paid with a credit card, he said.
Tang, chief executive of an Internet advertising firm called adSage, was flying from Seattle to California's Silicon Valley. Locke was leaving for China from the next gate over.
Tang introduced himself to Locke when he took the picture and wished him luck in the new job.
The image drew favorable online commentary in China, where government bureaucrats and business leaders are notoriously officious and status conscious and even a low-level county executive travels in a chauffeur-driven car with a retinue of secretaries and security officers.
Mocking the arrogance and corruption of officials has become a favorite online pastime, leading in some cases to disciplinary action against government and Communist Party leaders whose behavior was seen as particularly outrageous.
"What a pity China is 'unable to manufacture' this sort of public official," said one commentator on the 0534.com website.
As word of the airport image spread online, journalists who packed a meet-and-greet with Locke on Sunday made it a line of questioning alongside the safety of China's massive U.S. government bond holdings. Standing in the courtyard of his modest official residence, Locke said the airport Starbucks hadn't recognized his coupon so he decided to pay with a credit card.
"I love doing things on my own," he said.
Sentiments expressed by many Chinese were summed up in an editorial Wednesday in the official English-language China Daily newspaper headlined: "Backpack makes a good impression."
"Perhaps it is time for Chinese dignitaries to follow the example of humble Locke," the paper said.