After practicing tai chi, having a fashion-off with Peng Liyuan, and generally avoiding politics during her China trip, Michelle Obama cause a slight stir by visiting a Tibetan restaurant in Chengdu. USA Today reports:
Simply by dining at the Zangxiang Teahouse in Chengdu, a city in southwestern China, Obama drew attention to the broader, and highly sensitive issue of Tibetan rights.
At the Zangxiang, Obama turned copies of metal prayer wheels, which Tibetans spin to gain wisdom and merit, and received a white ceremonial khatag scarf. Predictably heavy on yak, the large bovine that sustains Tibetan nomadic life, the menu included yak butter tea, yak soup, yak pies and boiled yak ribs, plus the ubiquitous tsampa.
“I was so proud such a noble guest, the first lady of America, likes our Tibetan food,” said Shi Bixia, 48, the lobby manager who received the Obama party. Shi, from China’s majority Han ethnic group, was born in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, to Chinese soldiers who entered in 1950 as China’s new communist rulers occupied the region.
Chinese experts also weighed in on the event:
“She wants to send a message to the U.S. public that she still remembers the Tibetan people,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at People’s University of China in Beijing, and a government adviser. “There are serious disagreements on some Tibetan issues between Beijing and Washington, but Tibetan food? Maybe it’s good, she can choose any restaurant she likes, it’s not too provocative,” he said.
As with Obama’s remarks on universal rights, made earlier in her trip, China’s official media “will ignore what is not so positive,” said Shi. “The first lady has full freedom to speak about anything she wants to. It will not bring about substantial troubles for the two countries.”
We assume there’s no side that believes that the move was not a political message, and that Flotus was simply craving some rack of yak.
Obama examines Tibetan prayer wheels