Beijing: China`s new President Xi Jinping reportedly travelled in a taxi as part of an attempt to cultivate the image of being a simple and easy going leader, but the report sent the Chinese media in a tizzy with official media retracting the story after initially confirming it.
Xi, 59, took a ride in a car on March 01 and chatted with the taxi driver among other things about Beijing`s worsening smog, Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported.
While conversing with his passenger, taxi driver Guo Lixin suddenly realised that he was talking to someone resembling Xi.
"Has anyone ever said that you look like General Secretary (of the ruling Communist Party of China) Xi?" asked the driver.
"You are the first one to ever recognise me," Xi, who was reportedly travelling with an associate, told Guo.
Guo said he was asked about his income and other topics.
The taxi fare came out to CNY 27 (USD 4.35) but he was handed CNY 30 and told to keep the change.
The newspaper published more than a dozen photos with the story, showing the smiling taxi driver, his car, his one-story house in a Beijing suburb, the receipt from Xi`s ride, as well as a message of well-wishing Xi jotted down on a piece of paper at the driver`s request.
The reported taxi ride appears to be a well-choreographed public relations stunt aimed at portraying the Chinese leader as a "man of the people", South China Morning Post said in its report.
As the report caught the public attention, official media initially confirmed only to deny it later.
According to Post, the newspaper Ta Kung Pao too deleted the story from its website.
The story drew mixed response from Chinese social media users, with many praising Xi`s apparent easy-going, down-to-earth manners, as well as his candour in openly addressing key social issues such as pollution in his conversation with the driver.
But not everyone was impressed.
"Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe goes to convenience stores to buy drinks all the time. This is no news at all in Japan," wrote a weibo user.
"This smells strongly of the class consciousness in Chinese people`s mind."
Other sarcastic responders made jokes about the incident.
"Beijing police has alerted the public that some suspects have been posing as state leaders to swindle taxi drivers, passing out fake 30-yuan notes as taxi fare," read one joke.