World of Weibo

“Hello, beautiful”

Is Xi Jinping trying to appeal to the masses?

While much of the world was buzzing about the debut of the royal baby George, a completely different topic was going viral in China: on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping was overheard by reporters calling a young woman in Wuhan “beautiful”.

“‘Hello beautiful’, he hailed local woman Guo Tingting during his visit to the Wuhan Citizens Home, a government service centre, reported Chutian Metropolis Daily.

The remark triggered immediate discussion in the Chinese blogosphere. That’s because Chinese leaders are often mocked for their stiff facial expressions, immaculate black hair and general lack of humour. But it’s clear that Xi has adopted a more personable leadership style than his predecessors. During the visit to Wuhan he was even seen rolling up his trousers (and holding his own umbrella, netizens noted approvingly) amid torrential rain.

But it was Xi’s greeting that got most attention. In North America and parts of Europe, a similar remark might have prompted an outcry about politically-correctness. But in China it was seen much more positively. “Seeing our leader greet a lady with: ‘hello, beauty’, I’m so deeply touched by his approachable leadership style,” one microblogger gushed. “This is definitely better than calling women ‘comrades’,” another wrote.

Some were a little critical about Xi’s casual greeting. “That sounded quite flirtatious,” one weibo comment warned. “Be careful, or else Sister Liyuan [China’s First Lady] might be jealous and make you kneel on the washboard when you come home,” cautioned another.

Political analysts were soon scrambling to decipher the meaning of Xi’s action too.

“The gesture changes an otherwise mysterious person into a living person… What’s clear is that President Xi has not fallen behind the times and likes to mingle with the masses. That’s the best performance yet when it comes to creating mass appeal,” says Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po.

Meanwhile, the “beautiful” Guo became an overnight celebrity. The young woman was reportedly overjoyed with the compliment from her country’s leader, telling a group of colleagues: “Who will dare to deny that I’m not a beauty from now on?”

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