Photo of 'ordinary' Ambassador Locke shocks China

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In this photo provided by ZhaoHui Tang, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who is the first Chinese-American ambassador to China, orders coffee at Seattle Tacoma International Airport on Aug. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/ZhaoHui Tang )

By Travis Mayfield

A picture posted online last week of the new American Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, taken at Sea-Tac Airport really has people talking.

The picture shows Locke with a backpack, accompanied by his young daughter, ordering a drink at Starbucks.

Seems like the kind of mundane activity any Seattleite might engage in at Sea-Tac before a long flight.

But in China the picture has sparked a wave of publicity, not for what it shows, but for what it doesn’t.

Not pictured, a single body guard or member of an official large entourage.

CNN posted a story on its website about the reaction the photo is getting in China:

"He's carrying his own backpack," exclaimed the Beijing Times, while the government-run Beijing Legal News observed that Locke's family "look like ordinary travelers."

Meanwhile, one blogger commented, "You people out of China might think this photo is too ordinary and can't see much out of it, but for Chinese it's shocking."

Apparently the picture, taken by a Chinese traveler also at Sea-Tac and posted on a Chinese micro-blogging site similar to Twitter Sina Weibo, was reposted more than 50,000 times in 48 hours.

CNN also reported that the person who took the photo later posted online saying the Starbucks staff had refused to honor a coupon Locke presented for the coffee:

This prompted some bloggers to joke that the U.S. must really be suffering economically if its ambassador was forced to use such a voucher.

Still other Chinese bloggers and commentators are pointing to the picture and praising Locke as an example of the kind of politician they wish to have in China, the fiscally responsible kind.

Locke is known in Washington State for his casual approachable nature so the picture raises very few eyebrows here.

Locke was just confirmed as the new Ambassador to China.  Previously he served as Commerce Secretary under President Obama, Governor of Washington State and King County Executive.

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