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Obamas host 'quintessentially American' dinner for Hu Jintao

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. Among the guests are Barbra Streisand, Yo-Yo Ma, Michelle Kwan and Jackie Chan.

January 20, 2011|By Katherine Skiba, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — About 225 people on Wednesday swept into the White House for a "quintessentially American" state dinner honoring Chinese President Hu Jintao.

As tradition dictates, President Obama and Hu exchanged toasts.

Obama saluted the people of both countries. "May they grow together in friendship. May they prosper together in peace. And may they realize their dream of the future for themselves, for their children and for their grandchildren," he said.

Hu raised his glass to a "stronger friendship between the people of China and the United States" and the "steady growth of China-U.S. relations."

Few declined an invitation to the third state dinner of Obama's presidency, but House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was one of them. Another guest, Elaine Chao, the former Labor secretary who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), brought her father, James Chao.

Former Presidents Clinton and Carter were among the guests, as were former secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz and Madeleine Albright.

Hollywood luminaries, corporate titans, human rights activists and Obama donors also attended. They included actress Barbra Streisand, designer Vera Wang, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, skater Michelle Kwan, artist Maya Lin, action film star Jackie Chan and Walt Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger.

First Lady Michelle Obama wore a red silk organza gown with a delicate black pattern. Red is traditionally a color of good luck in China. The dress was by the British design house of Alexander McQueen, whose celebrated founder committed suicide last year.

At the request of the Chinese delegation, the White House created an American-style evening with a menu highlighted by Maine lobster and dry-aged rib-eye. White House officials labeled it "quintessentially American."

After a five-course meal, the guests were to move to the East Room for performances featuring Lang Lang, the Chinese piano virtuoso who helped launch the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Other artists included jazz musician Herbie Hancock and trumpeter Chris Botti.

Unlike the state dinners for India in 2009 and Mexico in 2010, there were no reports of gate-crashers — a flub at the first Obama state dinner when Tareq and Michaele Salahi attended, apparently without an invitation.

Streisand, asked by reporters how she snared an invite, quipped, "I worked in a Chinese restaurant."

kskiba@tribune.com

Kim Geiger of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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