Friday, December 16, 2016


Xi Jinping wields some immense power as President of the People’s Republic of China. He’s able to exert plenty of political pressure not only within his territory but on the affairs of the world at large, most especially his close neighbors. With the rise of Donald Trump and several other populist political leaders in Asia and Europe at the tail end of this year, he along with fellow old-timer Russian President Vladimir Putin are said to be joining with this new generation to usher in some vaguely-defined Age of the Strongman in the years to come. Thankfully, this isn’t about Xi’s political clout.

I read a rather interesting article on CNN regarding how Xi Jinping off-handedly wields another sort of power over his people: the power to influence their spending and traveling habits by his own example. Whether pushing for some legislation initiative, or making a minor suggestion, or travelling to other countries, or simply being seen buying certain products or patronizing particular establishments, Xi has spurred Chinese into doing some pretty sweeping mass actions all in imitation of him, and in doing so they have given businesses massive popularity boosts, helped manufacturers make a killing of their goods, and increased Chinese tourism numbers of some exotic locations around the world.

Who could forget the time in late 2015, during a state visit to the UK when then-Prime Minister David Cameron invited Xi Jinping out to the “PM’s pub” at Cadsden, Buckinghamshire for some fish and chips with some pints? As soon as it hit the news, Chinese tourists to the UK all gravitated to the pub to have what their President had that night. This year, The Plough at Cadsden is owned by a Chinese investment company.

And then there are the anecdotes of how every eating place the President stopped at in China became absolute bestsellers with long waiting lines. Two decades ago Xi stopped at a Fujian noodle shop to sample its pig-blood noodles, then in 2014 tweeted about it when he returned for a second helping.

Customers flocked to the place afterwards. A year before that, President Xi was seen lining up and paying for his own order at a Beijing dumpling shop. The specific order put by Xi is now marketed as the “President’s Set”, and is a popular order for locals and tourists.

When Xi visited the Maldives and learning of how Chinese tourists there tended to stay cooped up in their rooms leaving empty cup noodles when they check out, he admonished them in a public message to behave better and try the local delicacies instead. And they did, with more trips to the Maldives to boot.

Finally, he once commented that public benches on Hangzhou’s West Lake Park needed to be spaced further apart and reduced in number, to encourage couples dating and married to visit with the increased privacy. You know the ending. Xi Jinping sure is something.

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