China

London Mayor Boris Johnson sparks Chinese interest

  • 18 October 2013
  • From the section China
London Mayor Boris Johnson views the Shanghai skyline from The Bund as he arrives in the Chinese city for the second part of a week long visit to China to promote trade between the far east and London, 16 October 2013
Mr Johnson has been attracting much attention over the course of his trip

Boris Johnson rode a rental bicycle through crowds of admirers, travelled on the Beijing subway and made a speech which mentioned Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and James Bond. Along the way, the mayor of London managed to impress legions of young fans in China.

Mr Johnson is wrapping up a six-day tour of China, which is happening at the same time as a trade mission headed by UK Chancellor George Osborne.

Mr Johnson appears to be the more popular of the two politicians in China. The mayor's visit sparked thousands of comments on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

Few posted similar remarks about Mr Osborne, the mayor's Conservative Party rival.

"[Mr Johnson] is a little bit special," says 19-year-old Song Yige, a second year law student at Peking University, who was in the audience to watch speeches by both men.

"Politicians in China, they're like the chancellor. They're very calm and composed. But the mayor, he is very humorous. He is not distant like other politicians."

Weibo users were slightly less reserved in their admiration of Mr Johnson.

"I like your fluffy hair," one user wrote in English. "If you get bald someday in the future, will you put a wig? What colour will you like to choose?"

"I simply want to know how to move to London without breaking any law? PS: I am poor!!! PPS: we all love you!! XOXO!" wrote another.

'Fresh air'

Visiting London Mayor Boris Johnson (C) looks up as he takes a subway in Beijing, 15 October 2013
Mr Johnson's populist tone is catching on in China, analysts say

The mayor's Beijing subway ride was particularly impressive, Ms Song says.

"It's like some fresh air to China because we have never seen that before."

Chinese leaders have been criticised in the past for their reluctance to use public transport, preferring instead to travel in chauffeur-driven cars.

However, China's leaders are starting to use the same populist approaches as Boris Johnson, says Wang Zhanpeng, director of the British Studies Centre at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

"Chinese leaders weren't doing things like this as much in the past, but now there are some changes," Mr Wang says.

"There are also more cases of leaders demonstrating their man-of-the-people approach and their personalities, although our leaders would do it more often on occasions like disaster relief."

Sina, a top Chinese web portal, hosted a web page this week titled "Ask Boris Johnson", in which the mayor answered questions on his love of bicycling and expected upgrades to London's underground system.

Most comments and questions asked Mr Johnson for his experience running a city like London, asking for tips on how he might improve vast Chinese cities like Beijing.

"Our nation's officials, please learn from others," one Weibo user said.

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