The meaning behind Donald Trump’s cup of tea in a Forbidden City treasure hall
Xi’s dinner with the US president in the former imperial palace was much more than a meal
Beijing’s Forbidden City was more than just an opulent backdrop for US President Donald Trump’s first day in China.
One of the main halls used to stage a set piece on Trump’s tour of the former imperial palace was weighted with meaning and chosen to underscore cooperation between the two countries.
As part of their higher-than-usual welcome to the Chinese capital, Trump and his wife, Melania, sipped tea and had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan in the World Heritage Site on Wednesday.
The couples took tea in the Bao Yun Lou, or Hall of Embodied Treasures, a Western-style imperial building erected in 1915 to store treasures from other imperial residences outside Beijing.
It was built with funds remitted by the US government under then president Theodore Roosevelt.
China’s Qing dynasty government had been forced to pay compensation to eight nations, including the United States, over the Boxer rebellion, an anti-foreigner movement from 1899 to 1901.
But the US agreed to cancel the debt and the Chinese government used some of the money to build the hall. The rest was used to create a scholarship for Chinese students studying in the US and to build Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University.
Renmin University international relations professor Jin Canrong said having tea in the building “could send a strong signal to the US government that cooperation instead of antagonism is needed between the two countries”.
The two couples later sat down for dinner in the Jianfu Palace, a structure that was destroyed in a fire in 1923 along with all of its treasures before rebuilding got under way in 1999 with the help of a Hong Kong-based cultural foundation.
The Jianfu Palace has no obvious historical links with the United States but the meal was the first time a foreign head of state had dined with a Chinese president in the Forbidden City since 1949.
The dinner also appeared to run overtime.
At the start of talks with Xi on Thursday, Trump said the dinner was expected to last for about 20 or 25 minutes but continued for much longer.
“Because I was travelling and you were so nice and you said, ‘we’ll just do a quick dinner’,” the US president said, addressing Xi.
“And I think it [had to have lasted] at least two hours and we enjoyed every minute of it.”