Some of the initial followers were fans of Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), a popular folk singer, Zhang said. As he focused more on casual images of Xi, he began to receive more input from fans.
Zhang said he initially did not want the focus to be on himself, so he registered his account under the fictitious profile of a Shaanxi Province woman identified as a graduate of Xidian University.
The microblog has gained more than 700,000 followers, and did such a good job that the Chinese public began to wonder if it was an inside job by Xi’s team. Foreign media chimed in with reports wondering how the account was able to post so many photos of Xi in a country where information on the leadership’s movements is tightly controlled.
Zhang said the proliferation of smartphones has allowed fans to snatch impromptu photos of Xi. Although they live and work in a heavily guarded government compound in central Beijing, top Chinese leaders make a regular show of traveling to the provinces and meeting ordinary people.
The trips are normally tightly scripted, but occasional spontaneous incidents can occur. CCP No. 2, Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), earned some unwanted attention recently when a bare-bottomed toddler crawled out of a cupboard during a recent televised visit with a farming family.
Zhang recently posted an explanation saying the microblog had no relationship with Xi, but that just triggered more suspicion, he said, adding in an interview that he now wanted to go further and reveal his identity to quell growing public speculation.
“There’s so much guessing, and now by revealing myself I hope it will dispel everyone’s suspicions,” Zhang said.
Zhang said he relies on his instincts in deciding what to post to the account, and that he typically does not post photos from a location until Xi has moved on to his next stop.
Zhang said he has no idea if Xi approves of the fan club.
“But so far, no government worker or police has come after me,” Zhang said. “That tells us they are getting more open, a sign the leadership is more open.”
While the authorities have yet to issue an opinion on Zhang’s microblog, response from other media watchers has been generally positive.
The interest in Zhang’s microblog represents a desire to know more about the daily lives of high-level Chinese leaders, media commentator Liu Xuesong wrote in the Qianjiang Evening News, based in Zhuhai.
“In a way it also represents a dissatisfaction in the degree of transparency surrounding the news about top leaders and a dissatisfaction with the tempo and forms of expression of the traditional official media,” Liu wrote.