Gary Locke, US ambassador to China for the past two and a half years, has officially announced his resignation in 2014. Appointed by US president Barack Obama, Locke joined the US Embassy in Beijing in August, 2011. He has weathered through a series of political dramas during his short tenure, such as the case of “defected” former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun which was the starting point of the fall of Bo Xilai , and that of the blind dissident Chen Guangcheng who is now in the US.
The loudest speculation is that Locke and his family have had enough of Beijing’s polluted air. “The post in Beijing has brought too much harm to his lungs.” One netizen 悠一说一 joked. The irony is that it was under Locke’s watch that the US Embassy in Beijing started to publicize PM 2.5 (pollution measurement) information. Raising air pollution awareness may as well be Locke’s biggest legacy in China.
Many also believed that he decided to step down because he felt poor among China’s money-loaded corrupt officials. As one netizen 芹大菜 pointed out: “He should feel ashamed. He earned less than a Chinese village cadre.”
Chinese netizens love Locke, and that love began even before his arrival in Beijing. A photo of him shopping at a Starbucks with a backpack at a US airport went viral in China before his assignment started. Chinese netizens were “shocked” because a Chinese official at his level would never pay for his own coffee or carry his own bag.
Locke won hearts for his humble manners, for his honest, and for the fact that he is the dream official that many Chinese have hoped to have but never did. His popularity, however, may be part of the reason why he resigns.
“Though Locke simply behaves like all ordinary US officials do, he actually violates all of the unwritten rules of China’s officialdom. He is isolated.” One netizen 徐付群 commented. Another netizen 浪漫拉马丁 commented: “His humble manners and his promotion of PM 2.5 awareness are like a slap in the face of those authoritarians.”
Chinese public’s favorable view of Locke, at heart, is a result of their disappointment with their own officials. Many of them sarcastically asserted that Chinese officials felt a long relief after hearing about his resignation: “Now that the outlier is gone. They can go back to harmony.”
“Locke is like a mirror, reflecting the true faces of officials in China. At the same time, he is a window, through which the Chinese people are given a chance to get a taste of the American way of being an official. The Chinese people admire his ‘close-to-the-people’ working style.” Commented netizen 老徐时评. But unfortunately, Chinese officials, as one netizen 李小勇宁宁宁 pointed out, “won’t be more like Locke.”