Chengdu, host of the Fortune Global Forum this year, stunned its heavyweight guests on Thursday by welcoming them in what many call a “North Korean" style guards of honour, according to Chinese media reports.
In an attempt at hospitality, the host city on Thursday night, the first day of the forum, lined the steps inside a five-star hotel with an army of immaculately dressed children, each standing and holding a panda bear doll - the symbol of Chengdu.
Quan Jing, a reporter from Sina News on her way to an official banquet thrown by the organiser inside the hotel, had run into the children and snapped a photo of them. She later shared her unexpected encounter on Weibo.
“The poor kids have been turned into a decoration next to the escalator,” she wrote. “With makeup on, they would simultaneously sing, smile, and wave at any guest who rides up the escalator.”
"It’s not clear how long the kids had been standing there," she said.
“Is this North Korea or what?,” a micro-blogger asked, apparently shocked by the photo.
“Are we replacing flowers with children in future meetings?,” wrote another.
A source with Chengdu government told SCMP.com it was Chengdu’s idea to use children to welcome guests. It's not clear whether they are getting paid.
Despite the organiser's good will, Chengdu's forum has been harshly critisised from day one. While many participants complained the conference was "chaotically" managed, reporters working for some of China's most prominent online portals said they were denied access to the conference. They were instead made to watch the event from a TV screen installed outside of the room.
"What's the point of flying all the way to Chengdu to watch a screen?," one reporter later wrote online.
On Weibo, Chengdu locals have been moaning for days about how the city has wasted too much money on a “face project” which they deem as "distant" from their lives.
After making an artificial rain to purify the city's polluted air, the government also increased security and closed down businesses and government offices to relieve the city’s traffic during the three-day forum.
One local said the government also sprayed green paint on a meadow near the forum's major venue to make it look better, said a Sina News report.
“This is about a group of rich people meeting in Chengdu to talk about how to get richer,” one local wrote on Weibo, “What does it have to do with us?”
Ge Honglin, mayor of the mainland's western financial capital, said on Thursday that Chengdu wants to attract more Fortune 500 companies  to set up businesses in the city of 14 million.