Why People Are Obsessing Over The Details In This Photograph Of Chinese President Xi Jinping

The above image of Xi Jinping, the president of China, is a screen grab from a video showing Xi’s New Year’s address to the nation (you can watch the entire video on Youku here).

The image probably doesn’t look like it merits much scrutiny, but you’d be surprised. As Hannah Beech of Time points out, online observers have been poring over images just like this. Why? Because photographs of the inside of the Zhongnanhai, the walled compound that houses China’s leadership in Beijing, are incredibly rare.

So what can be discovered by looking at this image? Weibo users have pointed out that the photographs on the wall appear to show Xi and various family members, including his father Xi Zhongxun, who was purged by Mao Zedong and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Then, there are the brightly coloured telephones on his desk (the red phones are reportedly used by China’s political elite to talk, Beech notes), and some note pads. No computer, but then the Oval Office doesn’t have a computer set up, either.

OK, so perhaps what’s in the picture isn’t that interesting, but the very fact that the Chinese public is getting a chance, however brief, to glimpse into Zhongnanhai is interesting in itself. In the short time he’s been leader of China, Xi (or at least those who manage his image) appears to have made some attempts to break down the barriers between him and the people he leads — by apparently joining Instagram, supposedly taking a taxi, or definitely eating six pork buns at a cafeteria-style Beijing restaurant.

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