Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao newspaper apologized for publishing what it called a fake account of President Xi Jinping’s ride in a Beijing taxi, after the report became one of the most popular topics on China’s Internet today.
The story in the pro-Beijing newspaper had been posted on the official website of the Beijing government and China.org.cn, published under the State Council Information Office. The account was dubbed on the Chinese Internet a tale of “weifu sifang,” or “traveling incognito,” a phrase that describes emperors’ secret forays in China’s dynastic period.
“We deeply regret it,” the newspaper said of publishing the account. “We should not have allowed an error in our work to lead to such incorrect news. We sincerely apologize to our readers.”
The article said that Guo Lixin, the driver, claimed two men hailed his taxi around 7 p.m. in downtown Beijing on March 1 and asked him to go to the Diaoyutai Hotel. As they chatted along the way, Guo thought one of the passengers looked familiar.
“Has anyone ever told you that you look like General Secretary Xi?” Guo said he told his fare, according to the story. “You are the first taxi driver to recognize me,” the passenger was quoted as replying.
Guo complained about the city’s pollution and was told that smog is easy to produce but hard to clean up, Ta Kung Pao said. According to the story, Xi paid 30 yuan ($4.85) for a 27-yuan ride and told the driver to keep the change.
“Best wishes,” Guo’s passenger wrote on the back of a fuel-surcharge receipt, the newspaper said. Searches for the phrase in Chinese were later banned on Weibo.
The State Council Information Office didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment about the article. Asked about the report at a briefing today, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no information about the matter.
Chinese state media have highlighted Xi’s populist bona fides since he became Communist Party general secretary in November. The Xinhua News Agency published a profile of him in December under the headline “Xi Jinping: Man of the People, Statesman of Vision.”
“Media reports remarked that Xi is a leader who brings a fresh breeze to the country’s political life,” the Xinhua profile said.
— With assistance by Tian Ying, and Xin Zhou