Xi seemed at ease around his American hosts, whether climbing into a tractor cab in Iowa or sitting tie-less during the fourth quarter of a Los Angeles Lakers game as he laughed alongside Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
It’s not an image Chinese are used to after the decade-long presidency of the stiff and formal-looking Hu Jintao, who often comes across in photos as a typical Communist Party bureaucrat. And many here noted the difference.
“The Chinese style in official talks for the past 10 years is just repeating what the book says, with no taste or character,” wrote one weibo user, using the name Qianfengqingyin. “Xi Jinping’s remarks during his U.S. visit are quite vivid and new.”
Another weibo user, Zongjun, said that in his speech in Washington on Sino-U.S. relations, Xi used “standard Mandarin, magnetic male deep voice with measured tones,” adding that Xi “has a professional TV anchorman style.”
Xi’s visit, and his easygoing style, drew comparisons to earlier Chinese leaders who showed more personality and self-confidence on the global stage.
While visiting a Texas rodeo in 1979, Deng Xiaoping famously donned a cowboy hat, to the delight of his hosts, producing an iconic image that helped brighten Americans’ perception of China. And Jiang Zemin was renowned for sometimes using English words and breaking out into Broadway show tunes.
A pop song and an ad slogan
Xi may have also learned a few tips from his host, the quintessential down-to-earth, Amtrak-riding ordinary guy, Vice President Biden, who endeared himself to Chinese during his visit here in August by bantering casually, eating in a run-down local restaurant and paying the $12 tab out of his pocket, and cracking jokes to ease the formality. At his arrival ceremony, Biden told one member of the Chinese delegation: “If I had hair like yours, I’d be president.”
Of course, relatively few people here have been closely following Xi’s travels — New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin is a much bigger trending topic on weibo. But in the new era of microblogging and instant news, Xi is getting far more exposure than any other Chinese leader at this stage of the transition to power, and he appears comfortable in the spotlight.
“Xi’s visit is not a hot topic. People barely know Xi,” said Michael Anti, a popular blogger and advocate of Internet freedom. But, he said, “Weibo users are following Xi’s news about Hollywood, [the] tractor, the NBA.. . . This is now a weibo era, so people can read more from reporters on the trail through their accounts.”