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Barack Obama Attracted Chinese People’ Attention by Carrying His Own Umbrella

On his first visit to China, Barack Obama has won hearts and minds of Chinese people with a simple gesture--by carrying his own umbrella.

On his first visit to China, Barack Obama has won hearts and minds with a simple gesture--by carrying his own umbrella.

He had it clasped firmly in his left hand, a large black umbrella protecting him from a downpour as he stepped off Air Force One on arrival in Shanghai on Sunday evening. In a country where officials often have flunkeys to hold their umbrellas, the image of a U.S. president keeping his own head dry was poignant. Xinhua and other prominent Chinese media all captured the moment.

'I felt unaccustomed to this--Obama holding the umbrella on his own,' said a commentator in the Wuhan-based Changing Daily. 'There was nobody crowding round. The Chinese public puts up with a culture in which government officials have their umbrellas held for them. Officials enjoying themselves under an umbrella don't even think they are doing anything wrong.'

The 'umbrella performance' of Chinese officials has long attracted criticism from the Chinese public, and invited unfavorable comparisons with official custom in the West. In one set of photos widely circulated on the Internet, a Chinese girl student is shown holding an umbrella for an official as he delivers a speech on Children's Day.

Others show the U.K. Queen holding an umbrella aloft; former U.S. President George W. Bush and former Russia President Putin shielding their First Ladies; and Bush struggling with his umbrella on a windy day. 'Being a government official in our country is truly awesome and glorious,' says an online commenter.

To his credit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao bucks the umbrella trend in China. Wen, who cultivates a man-of-the-people image, often, carries his own umbrella when he shows up to comfort victims of natural disasters.

The women's section of popular Web site has declared that the umbrella issue has become a vital standard in judging the character of a man. The site is promoting a feature that seeks 'A True Man of Obama Style.' It said, 'Obama is a responsible person. He is in a high position but he doesn't abuse power. That little gesture of holding umbrella is very charming,' it said.

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