president braves smog, takes a stroll in old quarter
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[February 25, 2014]
BEIJING (Reuters) — Chinese
President Xi Jinping surprised Beijing residents by visiting traditional
courtyard homes and chatting near a shopping street on Tuesday, drawing
praise from social media for mixing in public during a bad bout of smog.
Unscripted interactions between politicians and the public are
uncommon in a country where even leaders' birthdays and family
backgrounds are often closely held secrets.
A shaky video of Xi's visit posted online showed people applauding
him as he approached. He stopped to ask residents how long they've
lived in the neighborhood before ambling away.
Photographs posted online by media showed Xi mobbed by people
holding cameras and cell phones as he stood grinning in an alley in
Beijing's historic old quarter.
The area, frequented by young Chinese and tourists alike, is lined
with stands selling street snacks like octopus balls and red bean
cakes, as well as clothing and souvenir stores.
Xi was accompanied by Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun, apparently in a bid
to dispel speculation in overseas Chinese media that Wang has been
implicated in a corruption investigation into retired former
domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang.
Xi's few forays into public settings have attracted widespread
He surprised customers at a steamed bun shop in December when he
turned up, paid for his own food, carried his own tray and chatted
with fellow diners.
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Smog has been thick for the past few days in Beijing and many
Internet users expressed approval that the president was exposing
himself to the same air as everyone else without donning a mask.
"Breathe the same air and share the same fate," the Beijing city
government said on its official Weibo microblog, in a widely shared
(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; additional reporting by Benjamin
Kang Lim and Ben Blanchard; editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)
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