Forget the Mao suit, China prefers a 10-year-old anorak

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The Independent Online

Rather, it's a green, and rather dowdy, anorak, worn by the Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, when visiting the poor in the countryside at Chinese New Year. The fact he wore the same coat 10 years ago is being read as a signal that Mr Wen is a true man of the people.

A Chinese website matched photographs of Mr Wen's recent New Year visit to a village in eastern Shandong province to snapshots from a trip to a market in the same province in the winter of 1995 and- gasp - he was wearing the same coat on both outings. What a comrade.

"The Premier came to the Shandong countryside again after 10 years, in the same winter coat!" gushed a blogger, "Lao Qi", who attached photos taken in 1995 and New Year's Eve 2006 as proof.

"A salute to Premier Wen. He is just like my next-door neighbour: a good friend and frugal neighbour," said a post to a website quoted by the state-run China Daily newspaper.

Heads of state have long made good use of clothing props to present a particular image to the world. And, as in the West, clothes maketh the leader in China as well.

Chairman Mao's charcoal-grey "Mao suit" grew into an icon of the 1970s. The suit was actually a "Sun Yat-sen suit", named after the leader who kicked out the Manchu dynasty in 1911 and had the suit designed for the new Republic of China. When Mao took over in 1949, he kept the style and wore it until he died.

The Mao suit was laden with symbols - the four pockets represented the fundamental principles of conduct for the Chinese: propriety, justice, honesty and a sense of shame.

Nowadays, the government tends towards smart black business suits, symbolising a departure from old-style Communism.

Wen Jiabao's anorak has made clear his stout populist credentials. His predecessor, Zhou Enlai, also favoured a well-cut Mao suit, but when he wanted to rally the workers, he would don a pair of pyjamas covered in patches which are immortalised in Chinese schoolbooks. "Premier Zhou Enlai's patch-ridden pyjamas touched the hearts of millions and remain a constant reminder of frugality to the younger generation. His simple and frugal living style has been well carried on by Premier Wen Jiabao," the China Daily said.

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