Who's who of great and good mostly a blur

The freezing rain didn't help.

On the day that President Hu Jintao arrived in the United States, a rotating cast of Chinese athletes, supermodels, money-makers, innovators and astronauts, along with a handful of good-looking lao bai xing (ordinary people), lit up the six huge screens on New York's Broadway, beaming their best smiles into Times Square.

The 60-second commercial, first unveiled on Monday, is intended to boost China's image among Americans, according to Xinhua. Few seemed to bother to stop in the rain and notice.

One with a clear view of the giant video, 43-year-old Andre Dunn, said it was news to him, even though he'd been standing outside for more than two hours touting a comedy show.

'I haven't seen it,' Dunn said before turning his gaze to the oversized screens while other advertisements flashed by - one for Mexico, and some clothing brands. (In Times Square, images battle with one another, often cancelling each other out.)

In a few moments, China re-emerged, all saturated colours and celebrity inspiration.

'Yao Ming !' Dunn and fellow touter, Greg McGonagle, 23, said at once. The other names and faces - Yang Liwei, Tan Dun , Lang Lang , Chen Kaige - flew by without a glimmer of recognition, except for John Woo Yu-sum, who was confused with the Taiwanese-American director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee.

'Great ad,' Dunn concluded.

McGonagle agreed: 'It's good to see Chinese people doing so many positive things.'

New York is the home state of Senator Chuck Schumer, a proponent of punitive legislation against China for perceived currency manipulation. As New York residents, Dunn and McGonagle are supposed to be incensed about the threat China poses to US jobs.

But they weren't buying it. 'You can't look at it that way,' McGonagle said. 'China's technology is on the rise, and has been for years. That's competition. It's a good thing.'

'Technically, I don't know anything about Chinese presidents,' Dunn said, when asked about Hu's visit. 'But we hope that the US keeps good ties with China, because China is a nuclear power.'

A couple of Brazilian tourists sheltering under a nearby restaurant awning had not seen the video that was dyeing the soggy air above their heads a ruby hue. But they had made up their minds.

'China is a dictatorial regime,' Renato Raduan, 35, said. 'They're taking over the world and they will be more powerful than the US. There is a lot of unemployment around the world because of China.'

Hu, he added, 'is a dictator. And he shouldn't devalue the renminbi.'

Across the street, a young shopkeeper was asked for his opinion of Hu. 'Who him?' he asked, reflecting an assessment of the Chinese president that - if not consensus - is widely held among Americans.

Ensconced warmly in a McDonald's across from the flashing screens, two visitors from Belgium were the first to say they had noticed the video.

'It's nice. It's joyful, colourful,' Dirk Vandervelden, 32, said. 'People have an image of China as a grey country. Child labour, that sort of thing. It's good to see another part of the country. Maybe it's an illusion, I don't know.'

Since Monday, the 60-second clip, showing a collage of about 50 accomplished Chinese personalities and ending in the slogan 'Chinese Friendship', has been shown more than 300 times a day in Times Square and also on CNN.

A shorter, 30-second version of the commercial, being shown on three medium-sized screens at an intersection in Washington's Chinatown, attracted the gaze of only a few passers-by.

'I recognise Yao Ming. And other people looked impressive too. There are some professors right?' Khadga Dhungel said as he smoked outside a coffee shop. 'We all know China is exporting products to all over the world.

'It's good to know that China has all these impressive people too.'

'I think it's good,' government employee Joe Thompson, 32, said, although he didn't recognise the faces. 'It shows they are people, we are people, and that we are essentially the same.'

On the whole, Americans still knew little about China, Thompson said. For example, his parents would not know who the president of China was. Hu's visit and the commercial would help people in the US to learn more about China, the second biggest economy in the world.

Laura Eddy, 24, said most people would probably be at a loss watching the clip, which flashes unfamiliar face after face at half-second intervals.

However, she said, at least 'it provided images to attach to when thinking about China', so that it's not just seen as an exporter of cheap goods, but also strong in science and technology.

The section titled 'Chinese wealth', showing entrepreneurs like Li Ka-shing and Alibaba chief executive Ma Yun , was a bit off-putting though, Eddy said, as it hit a sore point with Americans who saw China's rise coming at their expense.

Likewise, some found the emphasis on Chinese exceptionalism rather than the diversity, tenacity and humanity of the ordinary Chinese somewhat surprising.

'This is a positive thing to do,' Todd Metcalf, 40, said, adding that if China wanted to soften its image 'perhaps more pictures of pandas would work better'.