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When Xi Jinping started a two-day inspection tour in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Friday, it was no surprise that the trip attracted huge media attention.
After all, it was the first time that the new general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee had traveled outside Beijing since he assumed the post in November.
Xi Jinping (center), general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, at "The Road Toward Renewal" exhibition in Beijing in November. [Photo/Xinhua]
While Xi visited the Qianhai experimental zone and a couple of businesses on Friday, he spent time on Saturday laying flowers at a bronze statue of the late leader Deng Xiaoping on Lianhua Hill.
However, rather than who he met or what he said, it was the manner in which the new Party chief arrived that caught the overwhelming attention of the media: no welcoming crowds or banners, no red carpet, no heavy traffic control. The police did block a couple of main roads as Xi's small motorcade passed by, but only briefly.
"The roads in the Qianhai experimental zone were just as normal. A motorcade of eight cars arrived at about 3:30 in the afternoon, but not a single welcome banner was seen and neither were the usual cheering crowds," according to a report on Hong Kong's Phoenix Television.
China's new leader was living up to a promise he'd made three days earlier.
Xi presided over a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, China's top ruling body, on Tuesday when a document was adopted that detailed explicit measures to fight strict formality and bureaucracy. The measures included a reduction in the number of meetings, making policy documents more concise, lessening traffic controls during officials' visits and exercising thrift.
There should be "no welcome banners, no red carpets, no floral arrangements or grand receptions for officials' visits", according to the statement.
It also banned members of the Political Bureau from publishing monographs and signing autographs.
Moreover, members of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, are now required to "adhere to the regulations before asking others to do so and not to do anything they wouldn't want others to do", continued the statement.It was noticeable that at a recent meeting, two members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, Li Keqiang and Wang Qishan, broke away from the usual verbose but hollow style. They asked the officials and scholars to dispense with their prepared speeches and enter straight into discussion.
The statue of Deng Xiaoping on Lianhua Hill in Shenzhen. [Photo by LIU NIANHAI / FOR CHINA DAILY]
"In China, it is very important for the central leadership to set an example because it sends a strong signal to officials at the lower levels," said Ma Huaide, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law.
The public, especially those with bitter experience of the prevailing formality and bureaucracy, are keen to see the changes implemented as quickly as possible.
Hu Bensheng said he was often delayed by the heavy traffic and police presence when he worked in Changchun, the capital of Jilin province in Northeast China.
To make way for a long line of black sedans, the police always used a bullhorn and shouted "get out of the way" and "stand clear", he recalled.
"What made me even angrier was that on one occasion the road was closed about 30 minutes before the motorcade actually passed by, but none of the officials or departments had bothered to inform people of the closure in advance," said the 37-year-old sales manager.
"It was a winter morning, it was -20 C outside. I was in my car with the air-conditioning on, but many passers-by, those riding bikes, those on foot, students, everybody had to wait in the cold," said Hu.
Meanwhile, when his friends travelled from Southwest China's Sichuan province to Jilin's Changbai Mountain on a sightseeing trip last year, they were told at the gate that entry was forbidden and that they would have to return the next day. The staff said safety concerns about a high-ranking official on a tour of inspection had prompted the closure.
"They were very angry and gave up on their plan. They said they would never come again," said Hu.
He said he was happy to hear about the changes imposed by the new central government and believed that the measures were intended to improve the relationship between officials and ordinary citizens.
"It's really time to cancel the privileges enjoyed by officials or else their relationships with the common people will grow more distant," he said.
The view from the outside world