BEIJING -- Chinese President Xi Jinping dropped in unexpectedly Saturday at a traditional Beijing bun shop, where he queued up, ordered and paid for a simple lunch of buns stuffed with pork and onions, green vegetables, and stewed pig livers and intestines.
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Such visits are extremely rare -- if not unheard of -- for top Chinese leaders, who are usually surrounded by heavy security and are not known for mingling with the public other than at scheduled events.
After spotting Xi, fellow diners took photos of the president and shared them on China's social media. State media reposted the photos on their microblog accounts, and the official Xinhua News Agency reported about Xi's lunch on its Chinese-language news site.
"Had it not been for the photos, it would be incredulous to believe Xi, as a dignified president and party chief, should eat at a bun shop," author Wu Xiqi wrote in an editorial carried by the ruling Communist Party's official news site. "Xi's act has subverted the traditional image of Chinese officials, ushering a warm, people-first gust of wind that is very touching indeed."
The manager of the Qing-Feng Steamed Dumpling Shop, who gave only her family name, He, when reached by phone, said Xi and a small entourage arrived at the no-frills eatery in western Beijing at around noon without prior notification. She said Xi paid 21 yuan ($3.40) for his lunch.
"There was no special security measure during his stay," the manager said. "Customers could freely enter and leave the restaurant, and many took photos with him."
In one photo, a chef posed with Xi, who continued eating his meal as the picture was taken.
Installed as China's president in March, Xi has sought to portray himself as being in touch with regular people, but has done so with scheduled visits to factories and homes.
In April, a Hong Kong newspaper reported that Xi had taken a cab ride in Beijing -- also highly unusual for a top leader -- but the excitement soon dissipated when state media denied the report.
Though a socialist country in name, China has a deep-rooted hierarchy system that accords privileges to one's official ranking. In recent years, members of the Chinese public have applauded Western leaders for their regular-person style to vent their disapproval of Chinese officials' aloofness.
Some commentators have noted that Xi's team has been savvy in building his image.