© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Chinese Still Fans Of Obama, But Honeymoon Is Over

President Obama addresses Chinese youth during a town hall meeting at the Museum of Science and Technology in Shanghai on Nov. 16, 2009.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Obama addresses Chinese youth during a town hall meeting at the Museum of Science and Technology in Shanghai on Nov. 16, 2009.

President Obama hosts visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao for a private dinner Tuesday night and then again Wednesday for a full state visit at the White House, including a 21-gun salute and an official dinner with dozens of guests.

Though there has been little noticeable personal chemistry between the two leaders in their meetings over the past two years, the Chinese people themselves were big fans of Obama when he was elected. Now, their feelings are more nuanced -- though still generally positive.

When Obama visited China in November 2009, he held a town hall meeting in Shanghai that was the hottest ticket in town. Graduate student Qian Jin succeeded in getting into the event and got to shake the presidential hand.

"He's like a rock star, and every student wants to shake hands. Highest moment for me and my friends, shaking hands with Barack Obama, probably is the highest moment," he says.

But Qian concedes, by and large, that on the policy front, Obama hasn't made much difference to either China-U.S. relations or the U.S. economy more generally. He says he thinks Obama was overhyped and that Americans are generally too emotional about their leaders.

"In China, they are so pragmatic. They pay more attention to the real policy rather than the person. We say what people do is more important than what he is saying," Qian says.

And because oratory is not traditionally a part of Chinese political culture, nobody gets all worked up about beautifully crafted speeches, either. Tong Shijun of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences says that Obama as the first black president still resonates with many Chinese.

"President Obama is a positive resource for public relations of the U.S. at the international level, because he sent the message that ordinary people can reach his or her ideals. In his words, 'nothing is impossible,' " Tong says, referring to Obama's "Yes We Can" motto.

At Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Shanghai, young Chinese are lining up to take pictures of themselves with a startling likeness of the 44th president of the United States.

Visiting 20-something Zhu Jieting says she thinks Obama is great and that people shouldn't be too impatient, because things take time.

Pan Tao, 24, agrees. He says he still likes Obama, and that he prefers him to George W. Bush. Obama may be finding it difficult in this economic climate, Pan says, but at least he's not trying to solve things through war.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Gifford is the NPR foreign correspondent based in Shanghai.