MELISSA BLOCK, host: The new U.S. ambassador to China is the talk of the Chinese blogosphere. A snapshot photo of Gary Locke has gone viral. But no scandal here. He is seen ordering his own drink at an airport Starbucks and wearing his own backpack. Well, soon after that photo was posted to a Chinese blog, the comments began pouring in by the thousands - comments of disbelief and praise from the Chinese public.
Why was such a high-level official carrying his own bag? Why was no one on hand to buy coffee for the boss? And this suggestion: Perhaps it is time for Chinese dignitaries to follow the example of humble Locke.
Those words are from Chen Weihua. He's deputy editor of the China Daily's U.S. edition. And he joins us now from New York. Welcome to the program.
CHEN WEIHUA: Thank you.
BLOCK: And I'm wondering, what do you think it is about this photo that has so resonated with the Chinese people, it's drawn all of this reaction?
WEIHUA: Yeah, because the photo looks so unreal, I mean, to most Chinese. In the Chinese government official culture, someone as senior as Gary Locke, I mean who was once the governor of the state of Washington, who was a former secretary of commerce - very high up there - people at this level would never do this themselves; buying coffee, carrying a backpack. They wouldn't even get near the Starbucks, you know, there was always someone who would've carried coffees to them.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: So do you think - the idea from the comments that you've read online, is the idea maybe we should have, as you say in your piece in China Daily, our own leaders should take a page from this? Maybe they should do a little bit more of their own coffee buying.
WEIHUA: Yeah, I think Gary Locke arrived in China, he promised to build a more cooperative relationship within the country. And he probably didn't realize - I mean, the first thing he did actually it was sort of to set a role model, I mean for Chinese officials how they should behave. I mean it's quite interesting. I think it's putting a lot of pressure on Chinese officials, starting now. I mean, people will start to compare them with Gary Locke.
You know, why American officials act like this and the Chinese officials - I mean, I'm not talking about Chinese ministers. I mean, talking with the local officials
BLOCK: Yeah, you write in your piece that even a township chief would have a chauffeur and a secretary to carry his bags.
WEIHUA: Yes. Really not that high, I mean but they always behave very pompously. This is a kind of a status thing about you should never do this sort of a menial, low-level job yourself - you always leave it to your secretary.
BLOCK: There was a reaction from the new ambassador, from Gary Locke himself over the weekend, where he was asked about this image of him at the Starbucks buying his own cup of coffee, by reporters. And he said: I like to do things myself.
Exactly. I mean, actually he - one of my colleagues interviewed him when he was the Commerce secretary. And he said, basically, what's your hobby. He said he likes to fix things himself, like a plumbing, you know, these things.
WEIHUA: I mean a lot of officials - I'm talking about some even the corporate executive - they would never say this. They always say: Hey, I like play golf, maybe polo. I mean, so like it looks like you are, you know, high-level people - you know how to appreciate good life. You know?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WEIHUA: So this is the difference, I mean people see.
BLOCK: Chen Weihua, thanks for much for talking with us.
WEIHUA: Thank you.
BLOCK: Chen Weihua is deputy editor of the China Daily U.S. Edition. He spoke with us from New York.
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