Obama evokes Mencius and Yao Ming to impress guests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2009, 12:00am

Ancient philosopher Mencius and NBA star Yao Ming made an unlikely appearance in US President Barack Obama's speech, as he and his chief aides hoped to impress their guests from Beijing with a multitude of Chinese quotes and proverbs.

Quoting the Houston Rockets' centre in his second paragraph, Mr Obama said on Monday that as a new president and a basketball fan, he had learned from Yao. 'No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another,' he said.

He trod carefully between showing respect for 'China's ancient and remarkable culture' and reminding it of the need to respect human rights. He highlighted the need to narrow divisions between the two countries, and wrapped up his speech with a quote by Mencius, who lived around 300BC: 'A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time; but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time.'

Mr Obama continued: 'Our task is to forge a path to the future that we seek for our children - to prevent mistrust or the inevitable differences of the moment from allowing that trail to be blocked by grass; to always be mindful of the journey that we are undertaking together.'

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also showed off their Chinese knowledge. 'Good morning and zhongxin huanyin,' Mrs Clinton said at the opening of her speech. The Putonghua phrase means 'I sincerely welcome you'. Mr Geithner used the idiom fengyu tongzhou, meaning 'sharing the same boat in wind and rain', in his speech to urge both sides to act together in times of crisis.

State Councillor Dai Bingguo won applause when he ended his speech with an Obama campaign slogan.

'Can China and the United States work together on a ship that is battered by storm?' Mr Dai asked. 'If we work hard, we will definitely be able to do so. Borrowing a phrase from President Obama, 'Yes, we can'.'