Image credit: James Griffiths.
Hey, did you guys hear the news? Xi Jinping, man about town, may or may not have gotten in a taxi in Beijing, where he lives, and taken said taxi from one destination to another, and then paid the driver of the taxi with the currency of the country this transaction took place in.
Beijing-backed Hong Kong paper Ta Kung Pao (last seen publishing wholly wrong stories about Bo Xilai’s trail) broke this most important of stories in its Thursday edition, only seven weeks after the purported taxi ride took place. Great scoop guys!
But did the taxi journey even take place? The South China Morning Post, determined not to let their fellow Hong Kong paper look good, is disputing Ta Kung Pao’s story, which it describes as a “well-choreographed public relations stunt”:
Chatty taxi driver Guo Lixin was in mid-conversation with a passenger – about the smog in the capital, of course – when it dawned on him that he was driving no ordinary Beijing resident. It took a minute, but Guo soon recognised the man as Xi Jinping.
Xi got into Guo’s taxi on March 1, two weeks before the Communist Party leader would officially be named China’s president.
The newspaper published more than a dozen photos with the story, showing the smiling taxi driver, his car, his one-story house in a Beijing suburb, the receipt from Xi’s ride, as well as a message of well-wishing Xi jotted down on a piece of paper at the driver’s request. A road map and timeline of events also appear on the newspaper’s web page dedicated to the incident.
Yi fan feng shun, says the message, a Chinese idiom which means “safe and smooth journey”.
After the taxi driver, Guo, remarked on Beijing’s trademark pollution, China’s president reportedly said the government was dealing with the problem, and Chinese citizens should focus more on social progress such as “higher life expectancy”.
Surprised by the remarks, Guo said he turned back but did not recognise the speaker right away. Once stopped at a traffic light, he took a closer look.
“Has anyone ever said that you look like General Secretary Xi?”
The passenger replied: “You are the first one to ever recognise me.”
Guo said Xi tipped him three yuan at the end of the journey.
Evidence that this story is a PR stunt:
1. Tai Kung Pao has strong links to the Communist Party. Jia Xiping, current editor in chief, is a Party member and once worked at the People’s Daily.
2. Xi’s conversation with the taxi driver seems designed to alleviate public concerns about pollution.
Evidence that this story is not a PR stunt:
1. The purported taxi ride took place seven weeks ago, why would propaganda officials wait so long to run it?
2. It would be the shittest PR stunt ever, with huge risk of embarrassment to Xi and the CPC if proved false, and very little potential gain.
“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe goes to convenience stores to buy drinks all the time. This is no news at all in Japan,” wrote a weibo user. “This smells strongly of the class consciousness in Chinese people’s mind.”
Conclusion: Xi Jinping took a taxi maybe, your life is unaffected.
Update 17.56 CST: IMPORTANT NEWS EVERYONE. Xinhua is reporting that the whole ‘Xi Jinping rode in my cab’ story is false.