US Vice-President Joe Biden began his China trip with a call to students to challenge the government, teachers and religious leaders.
Biden yesterday paid a visit to the consular section of the US embassy, which was filled with a winding line of mostly young people clutching visa applications. "I'm the vice-president of the United States," he said, accompanied by outgoing US ambassador Gary Locke. "Thank you for wanting to come to the United States.
"Children in America are rewarded - not punished - for challenging the status quo," he told a group of Chinese students headed to the US on a study tour. "The only way you make something totally new is to break the mould of what was old."
In what appeared to be a reference to China's one-party rule and crackdown on political dissent, Biden told the visa applicants innovation came from challenging the authorities.
"I hope you learn that innovation can only occur where you can breathe free, challenge the government, challenge religious leaders," he said.
"Even though some countries' education systems are better, particularly at the elementary school level, there's one thing that's stamped in the DNA of every American citizen: it's an inherent rejection of orthodoxy," he said.
Biden has made similar comments before. At a speech at a graduation ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania in May, he said China had immense problems and "you cannot think different in a nation where you aren't able to challenge orthodoxy, because change only comes from challenging orthodoxy." Some Chinese students demanded an apology.
Biden was later officially welcomed at the Great Hall of the People. Vice-President Li Yuanchao recounted the first time Biden was in the room, in 1979, as part of a delegation of senators meeting Deng Xiaoping .
Biden said he was not certain it was the room in which he met Deng. But he noted at least one change - back then he was seated in the most distant chair as the junior member of the delegation. Referring to his seat beside Li, he said: "So I've made progress. I'm in this chair."