, BEIJING, Nov 12 – The Barack Obama love fest may have waned in the United States since he took office in January, but when the US president arrives in China next week, he will find his popularity is as strong as ever.
Obama, who will visit China from Sunday until Wednesday, is especially well-liked among the youth in the world’s most populous nation, who see the US leader as a symbol of the American dream.
In Beijing, where Obama will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the latest fad in the tourist areas is the unlikely "Obamao" T-shirt — Obama dressed in a olive green Mao Zedong suit and red-star cap, Cultural Revolution-style.
"Most Chinese people really like Obama. They think he’s nice, funny and he’s the first black president," explains the creator of the popular shirt, 39-year-old Liu Mingjie, at his shop near Houhai Lake.
A quick search on Google China for "Obamao" yields nearly five million results — more than the four million entries that pop up for Hu.
Internet users have also created "Comrade Maobama" — a kitsch portrait in muted colours of the US president with a wide forehead and a haircut like that of the founder of the People’s Republic.
In a sign of the widespread enthusiasm over Obama’s visit, universities across Beijing appear to have battled for the honour of hosting the US leader during his stay in the capital.
On Tuesday, students at the University of International Business and Economics handed senior State Department official Robert Hormats a copy of an invitation signed by numerous students and sent months ago to the White House.
Lu Dongkai, a 25-year-old finance student at the university, said he admired Obama’s tenaciousness, and viewed him as a shining example of an America that is still the stuff dreams are made of.
"He’s black, and he worked hard to get to where he is. This is an accomplishment that the Chinese people can appreciate. After taking power, he initiated policies that benefit the average citizen," Lu said.
Vendor Liu agreed, saying he viewed Obama as someone who was "close to the working classes," which is why "normal people like him so much."
The university students also lauded the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s oratory style.
"Obama’s speeches make people want to listen to them, or read them. It gives us a sense of what the American dream is all about," Lu said.
"In China, it is more difficult to realise one’s dreams. In the United States, you just have to be willing and able."
The Chinese translation of Obama’s book "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," released here shortly before his election, has so far sold an impressive 140,000 copies, according to the publisher.
Ahead of Obama’s visit, an additional 5,000 copies were printed.
Analysts said Obama’s popularity here can also be explained by his political pragmatism.
"This administration is more active and confident in terms of establishing productive ties with Beijing, especially on the issue of the global financial crisis," said Zhu Feng, an expert on Sino-US relations at Peking University.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at People’s University, agreed, telling AFP: "In a very general way, his attitude on China-US relations is very positive and very practical."
Paradoxically, while Obama is hugely popular with the Chinese people, the United States is not, according to Hu Xingdou, a professor of economics and sociology at the Beijing Institute of Technology.
He said the world’s "lone superpower" was still viewed by many Chinese as the "world’s policeman, ensuring global peace but capable of hurting innocent countries."