Lavish meals, gushing praise and memes about “Comrade Musk” – China showered the Tesla CEO with admiration during his whistlestop tour of the country this week.
The mercurial magnate is a controversial figure in the West but widely admired in China, where Tesla’s electric vehicles have become a staple of middle-class urban life.
His visit was welcomed by Zhu Qi, a Tesla owner from the central city of Changsha who said she “worships” Musk for his “great personal charm and constant excellence in his field”.
“China is still not super open… so for people like him to come and share some of their knowledge with us, I think it’s something meaningful that our country and leaders can learn from,” the 33-year-old university lecturer told AFP.
“Due to our exam-focused education system, I think it’s hard for China to produce someone like Musk, who has gained world-leading status based on his personal interests.”
Chinese social media was abuzz with news of Musk’s sojourn, with related hashtags on the Twitter-like Weibo platform racking up billions of views.
Musk arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, holding meetings with top ministers and praising China’s “vitality and potential”.
He then stopped off in Shanghai – home to a vast Tesla manufacturing base – before his private jet left the city on Thursday.
Photos of a reported 16-course dinner menu laid out for Musk’s arrival – featuring seafood, New Zealand lamb and traditional Beijing-style noodles – quickly went viral.
And many users were keen to show their appreciation for a man known affectionately as “Brother Horse” after the first character in Musk’s Chinese name.
“For Musk, there are no countries on this planet, only markets… to hawk your wares,” wrote one user.
“This is exactly the kind of borderless capitalism he predicted.”
Some took the opportunity to poke fun at the United States at a time of strained ties between the world’s two largest economies.
“Our officials and media are going hard on this visit,” quipped one Weibo user.
“He’s apparently the only American welcome in China.”
“Biden must be wondering why China refuses his invitations to meet with top US officials, but rolls out the red carpet for Musk,” said another.
A typically tongue-in-cheek meme circulating on the platform this week depicted a statesmanlike “Comrade Musk” standing behind a podium flanked by Chinese flags as besuited officials applauded in the background.
But not everyone was taken in by Musk mania.
Several users noted an after-midnight post by a Tesla vice president showing photos of Musk posing with hundreds of beaming workers in Shanghai.
In recent years a growing number of Chinese tech workers have criticised the industry’s long hours and high-stress company culture.
“It feels a little outdated to make so many people stay into the middle of the night just to take some photos,” one user said.