President Xi Jinping visits Yu'er Hutong in Beijing on February 25. Photo: sohu.com
Photos and video footage of Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting a historic neighborhood in Beijing on Tuesday during heavy smog has gone viral on the Internet, two months after his surprise appearance at a local eatery sparked a nationwide steamed bun craze.
Xi was said to have arrived at Yu'er Hutong in Dongcheng district at about 11 am Tuesday morning, several witnesses confirmed to the Global Times.
He shook hands with about 200 local residents and asked about their daily life.
"President Xi was very approachable and down-to-earth. A lot of people wanted to shake hands with him. He was patient with all of us," Wang Ying, a local resident who shook Xi's hand, told the Global Times.
When one of the residents mentioned his past experience in the Down to the Countryside Movement in the 1960s, Xi took interest and chatted with him, a local resident surnamed Li told the Global Times.
Xi later visited two families at 29 Yu'er Hutong. Guan Shiyue, 69, told the Global Times that Xi had asked him what he thinks of the restoration of this neighborhood.
"President Xi came into our room and asked me a straightforward question. When I told him that my family prefers to return to our old residence after restoration, he said he understands," said Guan. "It struck me that President Xi is a very pragmatic person."
Guan said Xi spent 15 to 20 minutes chatting with his family at 29 Yu'er Hutong. The president also asked him about their health insurance coverage and whether the new power bills are affordable in the winter after Beijing replaced coal with electricity as the source of heat in order to curb air pollution.
Xi did not wear a mask as he strolled the street and talked to residents. The density of PM2.5, particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, climbed to more than 400 micrograms per cubic meter Tuesday morning as heavy smog covered the city for the sixth consecutive day.
It was the second time Xi's humble approach to the people sparked debate on the Internet. In December 2013, Xi's surprise appearance at Qingfeng Steamed Bun Restaurant won him wide praise and cast him as a man of the people.
"Xi's visit to a hutong could be seen as a continuation of his visit to the steamed bun restaurant. As head of the State, he is trying to set up an example for his following officials, especially when the two sessions are about to kick off," Li Danyang, an administration management scholar from Beihang University, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
The two sessions, shorthand for annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, are scheduled to open in early March in Beijing.