While most journalists, both inside and outside of China, are busying making sense of what Li Keqiang said during his first press conference as the world’s second biggest economy’s new premier, what happened after the press conference is equally telling about China as a society.
On March 17, after Li and other vice premiers left the press conference, many Chinese reporters rushed to the stage and took what’s left by those top officials as souvenirs. The most unlikely target of all, however, is a half-drunk bottle of water left by Li – his lips may have never touched the bottle, judging from the glass full of water next to the bottle, if this makes anyone feel better.
Several female reporters had their eyes on the same bottle, but the woman in white jacket was the fastest hand who had the “honor” to take Li’s bottle water home. In fact, she even took a sip out of the bottle before putting it in her handbag.
Chinese netizens’ responses to the news were mixed, with more on the criticism side. Netizen 猫院老板 was among those who thought that these journalists should feel ashamed: “Only a slave would do this.” Netizen nanjibing9 echoed: “If this is what our journalists do, how can we expect them to produce quality reporting?” 杨锦麟, media guru from Hong Kong, sided with these netizens: “There is nowhere to find the restraint and the self-respect that every journalist should have.”
Some others, however, thought it’s totally OK for the people to “admire” their premier. Like netizen 猫院老板 commented: “If we are OK with fans fighting for Andy Lau’s underwear (Andy Lau is super star in China), why should we point fingers at someone who wants a bottle of water left by the country’s premier? Can’t people fan their premier?”
And of course, there are always those who make fun of everything. For example, netizen 留白非白 warned: “Caution please! Now she’s in possession of Li’s DNA!” And netizen 天涯复生: “This is special-supply water, probably the safest to drink in entire China. Why not?”
The scene is bizarre whatever the explanation may be. Anyone who is familiar with modern Chinese history may still remember Chairman Mao’s 7 mangoes ordinary tropical fruit that has become an icon for worship during the Cultural Revolution. Mao received the mangoes as gifts from the Pakistni foreign minister at the time, then re-gifted them to several groups of factory workers who put the fruit on altars as a symbol of the great love from Mao.
Li’s half-drunk bottle of water, of course, is no comparison to Mao’s mangoes. But at least, it shows that even in 2013, and even in a China where people embrace individualism like nothing else, the traditional view that a male in power is somehow an idol existence still lingers.