About a month after his arrival in Beijing to take up his new post as United States ambassador to China, former commerce secretary Gary Locke has aroused wide public attention, curiosity and controversy with his seemingly simple lifestyle and people-friendly posture.
Locke, the first Chinese-American to become US ambassador to China, arrived in Beijing in economy class on August 12. Television footage showed a leisurely dressed Locke walking out of the airport with a backpack, like a backpacker tourist in every way.
Then a Chinese tourist posted a photo on the Internet showing Locke sporting a small backpack and buying his own coffee at Seattle airport's Starbucks.
These scenes immediately created a buzz among Chinese netizens. It was hard for them to imagine Chinese officials doing such things. Even the New Left, who are critical of capitalism and against China becoming "Westernized", praised Locke. On Utopia, a major website of the New Left, a commentary said, "Compatriot Locke, hypocritical as his acts may be, is however giving a good lesson to our cadres on how not to cut themselves off from the masses."
After accompanying United States Vice President Joe Biden on a tour to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, Locke flew back to Beijing on an Air China flight on August 23 - again in economy class. The next day, a stewardess of the flight wrote on her blog:Well! That's refreshing: not merely a diplomat who is diplomatic, but an American public official who knows how to fly economy class with courtesy. It's not just the CCP -- American officials could benefit from the strength of the example.
Yesterday, Ambassador Gary Locke flew back to Beijing on our flight. Not only did he reject attempts by our ground staff to give him special VIP treatment, he also rejected an upgrade to first class as well as the coach on arrival. In economy class, Locke remained polite and unassuming throughout the entire journey, while another customer in first class began making demands as soon as he boarded the flight. What a stark difference.