Chinese President Xi Jinping strolls Beijing

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping braved Beijing’s choking smog Tuesday, making an unannounced visit to a trendy alley and sitting with residents in his latest public relations effort to be seen as a man of the people.

Xi wore a black jacket and pants and was followed by a posse of similarly plainly suited Beijing city officials for his short stroll through part of a traditional alleyway popular with tourists and fashionable youth.

Guan Shiyue, a 69-year-old retiree who lives in a small, sparsely furnished home on a nearby alley, said Xi visited him and sat between him and his wife on their living room sofa. Guan said he was impressed by the president.

“He’s a good leader of the ordinary people … I think he does things in a particularly practical way,” Guan told The Associated Press. “The leaders of this new generation are capable.”

Such visits are extremely rare for top Chinese leaders, who are not known for mingling with the public other than at scheduled events. Given Xi’s status and China’s conservative political culture, his appearance was likely stage-managed to some degree beforehand.

Photos apparently taken by onlookers of Xi’s visit ricocheted around Chinese social media sites, triggering a flurry of comments. Some Internet users expressed support for “Uncle Xi” while others mocked the public relations effort, saying he should prioritize fixing the city’s air pollution woes over visiting residents.

Though Xi was unaccompanied by most state media, their reports conveyed his campaign’s likely message. “Xi Jinping visits Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang amid the smog: Breathing together, sharing the fate,” read the headline of a Xinhua News Agency report.

It was the second time Xi has made an appearance in public in Beijing. He earlier went to a traditional Beijing bun shop where he got in line, ordered and paid for a simple lunch of buns stuffed with pork and onions, green vegetables, and stewed pig livers and intestines.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press

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