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When Xi Jinping came to lunch
Publication Date : 03-01-2014
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s surprise visit to a local restaurant last Saturday took China by storm.
As soon as the photos of him queuing up at the counter carrying a tray of food went viral on social media sites, customers began to flood the particular branch of Qing Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop.
The long queues on Tuesday afternoon — three days after Xi’s unannounced patronisation — were evidence that Xi has created a huge demand for the simple meal offered by the restaurant chain.
The patrons did not mind waiting for one to two hours in the line just to satisfy their craving for Xi zhuxi taocan (President Xi’s set meal), which consists of six buns with pork and spring onion fillings, fried liver and vegetables.
While the cashiers were busy ringing up orders, the kitchen crew was making the buns as quickly as they could.
The queue looped around the dining area with the shop assistants guiding customers to line up at the right lanes.
“Queue up here to place your order and then queue up there to collect your food,” they repeated, raising their voices to be heard over the crowd.
Sun Lu, a 27-year-old who works as a broker in Shanghai, dropped by Qing Feng with her four colleagues during their working trip to Beijing.
All of them wanted to have a taste of President Xi’s set meal, which was priced at 21 yuan (US$3.47).
“Xi was experiencing the lives of the common folk through his visit to Qing Feng. It corresponded well with his determination to fight graft and extravagant spending,” she said.
Xi caused a stir with his visit because such encounters with top leaders are rare.
Restricted by formality and tight security, the chances of getting up close and personal with them during their scheduled appearances are slim.
Xi presented himself as an ordinary person, and not a high-ranking figure who distanced himself from the people, the moment he stepped into the eatery.
On the microblogging site Weibo, many people have shared photos of them buying President Xi’s set meal at Qing Feng.
Most users praised Xi for reaching out to the people and setting a fine example, but not everyone was keen to jump on the bandwagon.
A Weibo user could not fathom the sudden craze over Qing Feng. “Who hasn’t queued up and purchased food with his own money?” she said in an uninterested tone.
But for the media and observers, Xi’s impromptu visit to Qing Feng has a powerful ripple effect.
The unprecedented trip by the country’s top leader to the restaurant was detailed in various news reports, from how he insisted on queueing up to buy his food, his comment on the gravy in the liver dish, right down to the fact that he did not leave any remnants of food on the plates.
The media rushed to analyse his lunch at Qing Feng.
Global Times said the overwhelming response reflected the high hopes people have for the party and government.
“Reinforcing the ‘mass line’ or the party’s ties with the masses is the focus this year. The outcome of the campaign will affect how people view this Qing Feng visit many years later,” it said.
A commentary on the Communist Party of China (CPC) news website said Xi has set a good example to other leaders.
“The ‘mass line’ requires leaders of all levels to walk towards the crowd, get closer to the grassroots and set aside their superiority.
“If Xi, the party general secretary, can step into an eatery and enjoy the local food, is it so difficult for the other leaders to get in touch with the people and understand their lives?”
Xi’s lunch was also seen as the perfect example of his campaign to promote frugality.
“Many leaders insist on lavish arrangements and could easily spend a few thousand yuan on one meal.
“Xi’s simple ‘set meal’ has demonstrated prudent spending to all,” a commentary on Renminwang read.
Xi’s visit was also linked to food safety, an issue close to the heart of the Chinese.
He reportedly told the restaurant: “The buns are quite tasty, but food safety must be the number one priority.”
An article on cnhubei.com urged the federal and local governments to pull in their resources to ensure food safety in every step of the food production process.
Meanwhile, another commentary on Qianlongwang, which is managed by the Publicity Department of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, said Xi’s visit to Qing Feng was a public lesson on good manners and civil behaviour.
“The simple gestures of thanking the cashier, greeting the restaurant employees and staying in line should be cultivated,” it said.
Other reports are more light-hearted.
Beijing Youth Daily carried a detailed story on the origins and nutritious values of the dishes in President Xi’s set meal, which is extolled as a balanced and nourishing meal.
It then concluded that the set meal is suitable for lunch, suggesting to replace the liver dish with porridge for dinner to reduce fat intake at night.
Nanjing-based Xiandai Kuaibao reported that people in the southern region were curious about the taste of the buns.
Besides providing a recipe for buns with pork and spring onion filling, it also reported that Xi’s visit to the chain restaurant had sparked an interest in opening a Qing Feng franchised outlet.