When the Soviet engineers NK Grechin and AS Rebrov invented their country’s first hydraulic digger in 1948 they could hardly have imagined that their brainchild would still be making headlines more than 70 years later.
But that’s what happened last month when a twenty-something woman from Shenzhen used the machine’s repair manual as a prop in a photo shoot.
Jiazi Kumiko, as the woman is known online, seems to have paid a photographer to create whimsical images of her relaxing at home.
She is seen snuggled up in bed, make up-free and misty eyed, and clutching a thought-provoking novel.
For good measure, a guitar leans against the wall of her colour-coordinated bedroom.
Yet the book that has captivated her is no Anna Karenina or War and Peace. Instead, Kumiko is transfixed by a guide to repairing Russia’s most popular agricultural excavator: a caterpillar-tracked digger with a bucket volume of 0.5 cubic metres.
The book appears to have been chosen because it is so obviously foreign. Probably also because its pale blue cover matches her bedspread and her bedroom walls.
The images were published in early July, provoking much mirth after the book’s cover was translated as The Repair Guidebook of Excavator Model E505.
“This is so embarrassing. One look in a dictionary would tell you this isn’t literature,” said one of the 1.85 million netizens who viewed the images.
“What next? Is she going to sing a song about tractors?” asked another.
China and the Soviet Union were proletarian partners until the two split in the early 1960s after Khrushchev denounced Stalin, leaving Mao wary about protecting his own legacy. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin the two countries have made an effort to forge closer ties and there are cultural exchanges, with students and businesspeople working together on both sides of the border.
That didn’t stop the Russians from having a good laugh at the photos too.
“At least she’s holding it the right way up!” commented one on LiveJournal.
Others dug up pictures of other odd Russian books being used in Chinese photo sessions, such as a girl weeping while reading about the “the theory of oscillation”.
Meanwhile, back in China, the photographer who took the images has taken to social media to ask what is wrong with using the excavator manual. “Who is to say that a cute girl can’t read a book like that or that a girl who studies engineering can’t be cute,” he argued, somewhat creatively.
Meanwhile Jiazi Kumiko has said she is happy and surprised about all the attention. She even hinted she would like to meet Putin when he visits Hangzhou for the G20 next month.
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