US first lady Michelle Obama has tried her hand at Chinese calligraphy during a visit to a high school in Beijing at the start of a week-long visit to China aimed at promoting education and person-to-person exchanges.
Obama was joined by Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Accompanied by her daughters and mother, Obama practised writing the Chinese character for “eternal” under the guidance of 16-year-old student Lu Yuhong.
“I’m nervous,” Obama said on Friday. “Don’t be nervous,” Peng replied in English.
Lu said she too was nervous, as well as “very excited”.
“But the first lady was so amicable. She was very approachable,” Lu said.
The visit marks the first meeting between Obama and Peng, whose husbands run the world’s first and second-largest economies and have sought to build a new relationship based on trust and mutual respect.
Peng will accompany Obama to the former Imperial Palace, to be followed by a private dinner and a performance. On Saturday, she is to speak at prestigious Peking University, and on Sunday visit the Great Wall.
Many Chinese question US diplomatic intentions towards China, but American products and culture are hugely popular here and there is a strong undercurrent of respect for the US first family.
While politics aren’t expected to play a role, Obama’s decision to visit with her daughters Malia and Sasha and mother Marian Robinson is being seen as a sign of respect for Chinese society and culture, as well as a way of humanising the relationship between the two nations.
By a similar measure, the glamorous Peng – a singer and entertainer who holds an honorary rank equivalent to major general – has broken the mould of reticent, virtually invisible Chinese ladies, using her fame to promote AIDS awareness and other causes.
The Obama women are to fly on Monday to the northern city of Xi’an, home to the famed Terra Cotta Warriors Museum, then visit a panda breeding facility outside Chengdu in southwestern China.