The word on the street these days, whether in Washington or Beijing, is that the US is on the decline and China is on the ascent ....... But it has taken nothing more than a cup of coffee and a backpack to show that American officials can still evoke awe, respect and envy among Chinese, even if unwittingly.

A photograph taken last Friday of Gary F Locke, the new United States ambassador to China, buying coffee with his 6-year-old daughter and carrying a black backpack at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport has gone viral on the Chinese Internet........ The seemingly banal scene has bewildered and disarmed Chinese because they are used to seeing their own officials indulge in privileged lives often propped up by graft and bribery and lavish expense accounts.

In this photo provided by ZhaoHui Tang, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who is the first Chinese-American ambassador to China, orders coffee Friday at Seattle Tacoma International Airport.

Locke and his family were waiting to fly to Beijing when a Chinese-American businessman shot the photograph and posted it on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social networking site. It has been reposted over 40,000 times and has generated thousands of comments. State news organizations have weighed in with favorable articles about Locke.

The first impression from the Starbucks episode has been bolstered by another photograph that shows Locke, his wife, Mona, and their three children carrying their own luggage after landing at Beijing Capital International Airport...... Chinese who saw them then spread the word that the family had gotten into an anonymous minivan because a sedan sent to pick them up was too small.

"To most Chinese people, the scene was so unusual it almost defied belief," Chen Weihua , an editor at China Daily,wrote. Cheng Li, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies Chinese elite politics, said in an email , "Ambassador Locke's photo contrasts sharply with the image of the Chinese officials who often live in a secret, insulated, very privileged fashion.......This may explain why some Chinese leaders tend to be out of touch with the real life of the ordinary Chinese people - members of the urban middle class, not to mention the farmers and migrant workers."