Chinese President Hu Jintao ended his first visit to the United States on Friday with a speech at Yale, where he spoke on China’s strategy for peaceful economic development, as more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered at sites across campus.
While student groups organized demonstrations criticizing the Chinese government’s record on human rights, hundreds of people from throughout the Northeast drove and rode buses into town both to cheer and denounce the Chinese president as he delivered his speech to a packed audience in Sprague Hall following a reception in Woodbridge Hall.
Hu and Yale President Richard Levin spoke briefly at a roundtable greeting before exchanging gifts at a ceremony in the Secretary’s Office.
“The friendship between Yale and China already has a long history,” Hu said through a translator in the Corporation Room prior to his address. “I have been looking forward to this moment for a long time.”
Hu spoke on the sizable growth of China’s economy since the implementation of economic reforms introduced in 1978, emphasizing that China — as the world’s largest developing country — also faces several challenges in the area of economic development. Hu said China has adopted a new scientific development strategy that will lead to future economic, political, cultural and social progress.
The Chinese government aims to raise China’s GDP to $4 trillion by 2020, Hu said — an average of $3,000 per person. He said that although China and the United States have different historical backgrounds and national conditions, he thinks the two countries can learn from one another.
“Exchanges in culture and education and among young people serve as a bridge for increasing mutual understanding between our two peoples,” Hu said. “They are also a major driving force for the healthy and stable growth of China-U.S. relations.”
Levin said in his opening statement that Hu’s visit is indicative of the growing relationship between China and Yale.
“By your presence today, you honor the long association between China and Yale, and you honor the place of the University in both Chinese and American society,” he said. “We are deeply grateful.”
Students attending the talk included participants in the Bulldogs in Beijing internship program, the Light Fellowship Program and the Peking University-Yale University Joint Undergraduate Program, and Chinese graduate students.
Protesters — carrying banners criticizing China for its human rights practices and reading from “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party,” a booklet critical of the Chinese Communist Party — as well as supporters — holding red banners and Chinese flags and playing the Chinese national anthem from loudspeakers — began pouring into downtown New Haven as early as 8 a.m. Friday, where they were met with a sizable police force and locked-down streets.
Most demonstrators gathered at four locations — the New Haven Green, the intersections of Wall and Temple and Wall and York streets, and in front of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall — although the Green and Old Campus were the designated assembly spaces.
Several buildings near Sprague Hall were shut down as a security precaution.
Student activists had petitioned the University to allow them to protest Hu’s speech on campus in the weeks preceding Hu’s visit, and concerns about freedom of speech surfaced at times on the day of the event.
Representatives of a student group asked Silliman College Master Judith Krauss last Thursday if they could hang a banner off the Silliman tower facing College Street welcoming Hu to Yale, Krauss said, and after she granted the request, several Silliman students hung signs protesting Chinese human rights practices to counterbalance the welcome banner. On Friday, the Chinese delegation asked the Yale Police to remove the signs, but they declined, Krauss said. The delegation then asked that the police approach Krauss to take down the signs, a proposal she said she turned down.
“I respectfully declined and encouraged the police to inform the Chinese delegation that in the United States and at Yale, freedom of expression was protected,” Krauss said.
Protesters at the event, including both students and hundreds of people from outside New Haven, presented a variety of viewpoints on the Chinese government.
Chris Rhie ’07, who led a group of 20 Yale student demonstrators, said he thought it was important to raise awareness of human rights concerns on Hu’s visit.
“We feel that human rights is something that has taken a backseat in President Hu’s recent visits to Seattle and Washington, D.C.,” Rhie said. “There’s very little chance of seeing him, but we hope that he will take notice of us.”
Leeky Ja, a Falun Gong protester, said she came to Yale to speak out against the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
“We want to end this terrible persecution of Falun Gong,” Ja said.
Xiangdong Sun, a spokesman for the International Association of Yan Xin Life Science and Technology, said he is glad Hu chose to visit Yale. Sun accompanied demonstrators on the New Haven Green carrying a banner that read, “Warmly Welcome President Hu Jintao To The United States.”
“We have come here with a happy mind to welcome President Hu to the United States,” Sun said.
At Friday’s gift exchange, an associate producer for CNN International who asked Levin a question during the ceremony was escorted out of Woodbridge Hall. The producer, Joe Zaccarello, whom a CNN spokesman described as “a reporter out of the U.N. office experienced in diplomatic protocol,” asked Levin whether Hu had seen the demonstrations.
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the producer was credentialed only for Woodbridge Hall and was escorted off campus.
“At a private gift exchange ceremony, one journalist broke all ground rules, behaved rudely, and was escorted out of the private meeting,” Klasky said.
During the gift exchange ceremony, Hu presented the University with books on Chinese political science, economics, history and culture, while Levin presented Hu with one of the books that Yung Wing, Class of 1854 — the first Chinese person ever to receive a degree from a U.S. university — gave to Yale, as well as portrait of Yung Wing.
Adam Scharfman ’07, one of four Yale students invited to the gift ceremony, said he was excited to meet the Chinese leader.
“It was a big honor,” Scharfman said. “It was like a dream come true.”
The speech, telecast on closed circuit television, was the first live speech Hu has given outside his own nation, and the second that a Chinese president has delivered at a U.S. university. Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin spoke at Harvard University in 1997.
— Staff Reporters Judy Wang and James Warrick-Alexander contributed to this report.