Now that we’ve had a good night’s rest, we can sit back and reflect on the general meaning and importance, both literal and symbolic, of President Obama’s town hall in Shanghai yesterday. We’ve come to a sort of peace with the entire affair: yes, it was scripted, but could you expect more from such an unprecedented meeting between citizens and the populist president of a staunchly democratic country in a Communist state? No, Obama didn’t seem to have a substantive, overarching message for a meeting that his administration fought tooth and nail to arrange: but in his first appearance in China, having yet to even meet with President Hu Jintao, were we really expecting something earth shattering?
But as we were letting our heads sink into our pillows, letting images of Obama shaking hands with eager young
students Communist Youth Party members and teachers wash over us like lucid dreams, the western press corps were just waking up, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to write a flurry of articles on their reactions to the president’s town hall. To our unsurprise, the articles were largely as engaging as the event itself.
Among the more interesting tidbits:
- President Hu Jintao thought the meeting was “quite lively.” We would pay to see the look on his face when he said that.
- Adam Minter had a particularly apt analogy on Shanghai Scrap: “Obama’s performance this afternoon reminded me of nothing so much as an overly coached American businessman on his first trip to China, so concerned about what he should or should not say that he forgets what he wanted to say in the first place, and ends up going home with nothing but a hotel bill and empty promises.”
- WSJ contends that Chinese politicans are actually fearful of the charisma of Obama, that his accessible persona would contrast too harshly with the that of the traditional party leader, whose public appearances are tight-lipped and tightly regulated.
- CBS News trolled around Chinese forum sites and found a number of interesting posts from netizens. Our favorites:
“Obama talking about freedoms and Chinese students looking nervous as if getting caught watching porn,” and “Obama wants to address to the future of China. No, Mr. President, they just a bunch of youth cadres.”
- A number of news sources, including the LA Times, seemed to be watching a different town hall altogether, one in which Obama made substantial, hard hitting points for human rights and freedom. He apparently “chided” China with “an unusual bit of U.S.-style democracy for them.” Right–when was this?
- Finally, A CNN correspondent was detained at a Shanghai market for filming a story about ObaMao. After holding up one of the shirts for the cameras, security guards rushed over and tried to pry the shirt out of her hands. Yeah, guys, snatching personal property is a great containment method.
And if you missed the town hall, we’ve got coverage here and here. We’ll be interested to see what leaks out of today’s meeting between Hu and Obama- hopefully something much more substantial than what was offered yesterday.