By Tom Bannister
Over the weekend Xi Jinping has been visiting Shenzhen in his first trip after being confirmed as the new President. On Sunday Xi laid flowers at the feet of the huge Deng Xiaoping statue in Lotus Hill park. Whilst in the park he planted a banyan tree.
Chinese leaders have planted trees in Shenzhen in the past: outgoing president Hu Jintao planted an Osmanthus tree in the same park during his recent 2010 trip. Hu’s tree, Osmanthus fragrans, is described as being primarily ornamental: ‘an evergreen tree or shrub, with strongly-scented flowers; it is cultivated as an ornamental and has a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine and for flavouring tea and confectionery‘. In contrast with Hu but similar to Xi, Deng Xiaoping also planted a banyan tree in a (different) Shenzhen park during his 1992 Southern Tour. Deng and Xi’s Banyan tree, Ficus altissima is far more robust, a ‘massive spreading evergreen fig, trunk buttressed, bark smooth‘, commonly planted in Chinese streets. This difference, between the robust solidity of Deng and Xi’s tree’s compared with the ornamental fragility of Hu’s, is perhaps indicative of the difference between their leadership styles.
Whilst Hu often appeared awkward and distant, Deng was far more personable and known for his pragmatism. The Shenzhen trip has helped to develop these Dengist aspects of Xi’s character. The South China Morning Post reports:
[Xi] ordered that the visit be kept low-key, banning red carpets and elaborate banquets. Security also seemed less restrictive. Before Xi’s arrival, police told the people at the park that they could stay. Normally, only a carefully selected few are allowed to observe such events.
Shenzhen propaganda officials said Xi had ordered a low-profile reception and there would be no red carpets, no extravagant banquets, no massive security precautions and no overly burdensome traffic controls during his visit.
“Xi has ordered the serving of simple and unadorned food with no more than six dishes and one soup, and a buffet meal for accompanying officials,” a propaganda official said. Police only blocked main roads briefly as Xi’s small motorcade passed by.
Xi’s low-profile visit is in sharp contrast to that of President Hu Jintao’s in 2010 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of China’s economic reform. Roads were blocked for that trip and reporters had to undergo background checks and were only allowed to carry a pencil, paper and their identity cards to the venue for the commemoration ceremony.
The significance of the meal choices should not be underestimated; ‘six dishes and one soup’ would represent a mere aperitif for most Chinese dining occasions. Recent photographs of Xi smiling and waving, meeting members of the public, and of his fellow officials eating instant noodles, have also circulated to generate much talk about the new leaders likeability and approachability. Perhaps more importantly, policy-wise, Xi’s choice to visit both state-owned and private companies whilst in Shenzhen is also significant as the Post reported:
Veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said Xi was showing his support for the private sector by visiting two private enterprises in Shenzhen.
“For a long time [under Hu’s leadership], the state advanced while the private sector retreated in China’s economy, although the country’s successful economic reform was largely attributed to its formerly booming private companies,” Lau said. “Private companies dominate Guangdong’s economy, and it’s important for Xi to carry forward Deng’s policy.”