Chinese Students Shocked, Appalled at Obama’s Town Hall MeetingObama in Shanghai.
Wang Zhuchen, a student in international relations at Fudan University, said he was surprised — and also impressed — to hear the U.S. president talk of his family and children. A Chinese leader, he said, would never discuss anything personal in public.
Wang, a Party member, quickly added that this did not reflect badly on Chinese leaders but merely their “different traditions and culture.”
SHANGHAI – Chinese students in Shanghai were shocked, appalled, incredulous, and generally uncomfortable at President Obama’s town hall meeting yesterday afternoon.
The audience, made up of carefully-screened students from several Shanghai universities, was stunned that a head of state could have a personality and speak to them as if they were real people. “We expected to be addressed en masse like subjects,” said Jiaotong University student Wang Jiabo. “I didn’t think he would look at or acknowledge us. It was incredibly alienating.”
21-year-old electrical engineering student and Communist Party member Liu Huajian was “absolutely mortified” that a head of state would deign to talk about his personal feelings. “I thought he was going to ignore us, plaster on a smile, and remain motionless for the duration of the hour but instead he harangued us endlessly about his feelings. Has he no shame?”
Students exiting the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum where the event was held noted that the American president looked “oddly human” when he took the stage and that Obama appeared comical standing on a low stage holding a microphone while taking questions from the audience. One student wondered, “I don’t understand. He’s the president. Why wasn’t he pontificating from the top of a tall gate erected in his honor or before an over-sized portrait of himself?”
Many were confused as to why a political figure would voluntarily interact with citizens not as part of a PR campaign after a natural disaster or a photo opportunity with children with balloons.
Zhang Yun, a third-year Fudan University student, expressed dismay at how ill-prepared Obama was. “He didn’t even have a sheaf of paper from which he could read from slowly and laboriously in a monotone. It’s like he wasn’t even trying.”
Students were not the only ones disappointed. Xiao Yang, a political commentator on state radio, described the event as “maudlin and unprofessional,” noting the distinct lack of interminable lists and empty platitudes.
In the end, it seemed that Obama was unable to please anyone. Shanghai residents took umbrage that streets around the museum were shut down. Said one local, “Some American decides to have a little show and tell and our streets get shut down. And for what? I couldn’t find coverage of it anywhere.”