Joe Biden’s visit to China has gotten little respect in the US press, who seem to despise his “everyday man” approach to things and who trumpet his verbal gaffes without noticing his common touch is something desperately needed by the elitist Obama administration.

During his trip to China, he visited an ordinary Chinese restaurant and ate with the ordinary folks there. And this simple gesture has caused eyebrows to lift among some in China.

The US press has overlooked the importance of the gesture, probably because they don’t recognize that an official or superior would never act that way in many Asian cultures (even here in the Philippines, a boss will tell an underling to do a simple task rather than to do it himself).

So the LATimes story is mainly about food and the cost of living. The government run Chinese Daily is mainly complaining that Biden didn’t eat the Liver and chitlings (hog intestine) soup that is the specialty of the restaurant (he opted for noodle soup and a steamed dumpling instead).

But one paragraph in the LA Times does mention in passing the explosive part of the story:

His everyman gesture came days after a photograph of U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke carrying a backpack and buying his own coffee at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport went viral here. Online commentators expressed surprise — and some admiration — that a high-ranking U.S. official would perform these humble tasks. Chinese leaders, who consider such chores beneath them, employ assistants to fetch and carry.

Yes. Biden acted like a normal person, not as a mandarin. And Biden’s action comes after another “gaffe”: where the US Ambasador actually carried his own bags at the airport.

Global Voices, a gathering place for citizen blogs, has a report explaining why this has caused so much discussion on the internet:

In a country where government officials’ transportation, overseas travel and banquet expenses account for 60% of all administrative expenses, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that such expenses are national secrets, Biden’s casual meal has won ordinary Chinese people’s hearts. To the extent that the Chinese propaganda department finds the news embarrassing for the Chinese authorities and is banning media outlets [zh] from discussing the noodle incident.

The point is that a simple American gesture has impressed many ordinary unimportant folks in China: a simple gesture that is routine in the US, one that implies that politicians are not mandarins or kings, but ordinary people who represent other ordinary people.

From NTDTV, a New York based Chinese media station established to promote East West Harmony while covering stories ignored by the official Chinese government censored press:

[Wu Zuolai, China Art Research Institute (comments)]:

“Hasn’t Biden set an example when he came to dine in a simple noodle restaurant? And hasn’t Gary [Locke] acted like an ordinary citizen when he carried a bag in hand, leading his child? These are lessons that CCP members need to learn.”

Like Wu, many Chinese online are asking why they’ve never seen their own leaders carry a bag, order their own food, or even eat a meal that most citizens could afford–when Biden and Locke make it look so easy.

So, ironically, Biden’s trip to China, which was originally called merely a “charm offensive” has turned out to be just that, but in a way that I suspect was not foreseen by either the very elitist Obama administration or the very elitist Chinese officials.

The low-key actions of two top US officials have sparked heated debate among China’s netizens about the nature of public servants. As the BBC notes:

The two episodes generated considerable comment on the internet, with the photo from Seattle – taken by a passing businessman – re-posted more than 40,000 times.

The tone of the debate was overwhelmingly in favour of Mr Locke’s down-to-earth actions.

“American officials are to serve the people, but Chinese officials are served by the people, that’s the difference,” said one commentator on Sina.com, in a representative post.

Yes, Joe Biden has given China a lesson in democracy by his simple act of acting like an ordinary decent guy.

Or as one poster quoted at Global voices notes tongue in cheek:

勾恩 The U.S. imperialist intention never dies out. They are exporting U.S. values, such as honesty, equality, liberty and congeniality to China so as to transform our country peacefully. We have to be aware of that.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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