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Chinese Leaders’ Apparent Thriftiness Fails to Resonate

The ‘Four Dishes, One Soup’ anti-corruption catchphrase originally coined by China’s first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Zhu Yuanzhang, has re-emerged centuries later. State media [zh] used the term to describe a simple dinner Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping had in China’s Northern Hebei province on December 29, 2012.

The menu of the dinner, which was published online, shows an order of simple Chinese dishes such as braised chicken and pork with wax gourd soup. “He specifically instructed drinks not to be served,’’ the report read.

Thriftiness praised

In a country where luxury delicacies are more commonly served during officials’ visits, Xi's thriftiness obviously touched the hearts of many state journalists. However, the detailed report about the “Four Dishes, One Soup” dinner failed to impress those online. Whilst some netizens consider Xi to have set a good example, many think the story was not worth reporting as it should be the norm.

It is not the first time state media has praised new leaders’ “touching moments”. On the same day, when reporting about Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to a village, state media Xinhua stressed [zh] that Li stood behind villagers during a photo shoot, rare behaviour for Chinese leaders who usually stand in front of ‘normal’ people.

The screen shot of a TV report on Xi's "Four Dishes, One Soup" dinner from Youku.

The screen shot of a TV report on Xi's “Four Dishes, One Soup” dinner from Youku.

The state media’s constant efforts to give Chinese new leaders a more common touch has triggered netizens’ retorts on Sina Weibo and blogosphere. Below are some comments from writers and active netizens [zh]:

岳中海: 既然领导人要走亲民路线,抛弃官员“奢华作风”的固有印象,那么就应该和民众一样,一样等红灯,一样住宿,一样吃饭,这些有什么可报道的?故作低调的用词和语调相反透露出亲民行为“稀少”的程度。

岳中海: If officials decide to abandon the “luxury style” impression, then they should act the same as common people such as waiting on the red light [to cross the road], staying in ordinary hotels and eating simple meals, why is it necessary to report about this? The report itself reveals that such behavior is rare.

在打盹:一听宣传某领导吃四菜一汤,吃什么大排档等等,我就倒胃。不改变、不解决中国面临的诚信缺失、道德沦丧、贪腐遍地、生存环境恶化、社会保障不全、三公经费高的吓人,人民有病看不起等等民生问题。

在打盹: Propaganda like “Four Dishes, One Soup” make me sick. They are not addressing the real issues China is facing today, such as the lack of credibility, moral decay, corruption, the environmental issue, social security issue and medical care issue.

连鹏:啥时候领导四菜一汤、合影时站在村民后面不再是“新闻”,被众媒体和网民歌颂的时候,才是真的进步。那句话咋的说来着,可以将权力关进笼子的制度比英明之主重要,可监督问责官员的制度比青天大老爷要靠谱的多。

连鹏: When “Four Dishes, One Soup” and “Standing behind villagers at photo shoots” are no longer considered “news” praised by the media or readers, we will then have real progress. A system where power can be controlled is more important than a wise leader, a system to monitor the officials is far more reliable than a good leader.

作家草军书: 特别多的国人特别容易被官员的一些微小的本应属于理所当然的细节感动,比如领导考察时吃四菜一汤、开车和别人一样等红灯、吃饭后主动掏钱支付饭费等。这些事情难道不是正常的吗?没有必要大张旗鼓铺张宣传,大家都一样拳头大的胃,一个人吃顿饭,四菜一汤完全能吃饱,不要标准太低奴性太足。

作家草军书: Many Chinese people are easily touched by some small things officials do, although these things should be taken as something normal, such as eating simple meals, waiting on the red [traffic] lights and paying for their own meals. Aren’t they supposed to act like this? There is no need to report about it; “Four Dishes, One Soup” is enough to feed one person, don’t lower our standards with a servile attitude towards the officials.

 矮巴马:主要是被奴役惯了,总是把命运交给别人,所以渴望有仁慈的主人。其实命运在自己手中。

矮巴马: [Such reporting shows] we are used to being ruled like slaves. We always leave our fate to others, so we are eager to have a benevolent master. In fact, our fate is in our own hands.

Bright113:当正常的事情发生成为感动或欣喜的标准,这个国家已然很不正常了。

Bright113:When a country is touched by a normal deed, this country is already not normal.

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