BEIJING - Chinese President Hu Jintao had a busy schedule from Tuesday to Thursday, meeting with US leaders on major bilateral and world issues in Washington.
His diplomacy in the United States, however, turned somewhat light-hearted as he walked into a Chicago high school on Friday morning.
Confucius Institute as a window
As the only Confucius Institute targeting primary and middle school students in the United States, the Confucius Institute in Chicago (CIC), housed in Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, was a highlight of Hu's four-day visit, which, apart from its diplomatic and economic significance, reflected China's desire to boost humanistic interactions with Americans.
At a welcome ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, Hu reiterated the importance of extensively involving the two peoples in efforts to boost the China-US partnership.
When meeting with his US counterpart Barack Obama, Hu called on both sides to increase the awareness of the importance of China-US ties, among their peoples, especially their youths; promote mutual understanding and friendship; give full play to their initiative to support the development of bilateral ties; and consolidate the basis of public opinions of the relations.
Commenting on Hu's visit to the CIC, former CIC head Robert Davis said it showed the great importance the Chinese government attaches to the exchanges between the next generations of the two countries.
Learning each other's language and knowing about each other's culture brings their hearts closer, Davis said.
Joseph Nye, former US assistant secretary of defense and dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, has described Confucius Institutes as "instruments of China's soft power," which can enhance the understanding of the Chinese culture.
In fact, China has made remarkable progress in introducing its culture to the world since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. There are now more than 300 Confucius Institutes and 300 Confucius classrooms in over 90 countries across the world, with about 40 million people learning Chinese.
Hu's trip to the CIC promoted China's image on the world stage and served as a catalyst for understanding the Chinese culture.
Efforts to promote image
Just before Hu's arrival in Washington, a video show debuted in New York City Monday, as part of China's newest efforts to promote its image in the world.
With China's traditional red as the theme color, the 60-second video was shown on six screens simultaneously at Times Square with a billboard written "Experience China" on top of the screens.
The show highlights ordinary Chinese as well as some famous Chinese figures like pianist Lang Lang, basketball player Yao Ming and astronaut Yang Liwei, attracting passersby of different nationalities at one of the world's busiest squares.
"The layout of the video is quite smart. I like it," Charlotte Mcguckin, 18, a high school student in New York, told Xinhua.
"Everyone (in the video) looks happy," she said.
"Great commercial! I think it could (make people curious). Some of the people there look certainly very interesting and you wonder what they've done and what makes them so famous in China," said John Rhodes, an Australian tourist visiting the square.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the video show has created "a bigger splash than anticipated."
Also, China's efforts to improve its image abroad in recent years have been productive in the eyes of some US scholars like Clayton Dube, associate director of the US-China Institute at the University of Southern California.
According to Dube, events like the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo have impressed the United States, and through them, Americans saw a modern China.
Call for harmonious cooperation
When photos of President Hu hugging a boy greeting him at the Andrews Airport upon landing on American soil grabbed headlines Tuesday, the world has every reason to believe China is also poised to embrace all US friends to jointly promote world harmony.
"The development of China-US relations, in the final analysis, hinges on the broad support and active involvement of people from all walks of life in the two countries," Hu said when addressing a welcome luncheon by US friendly organizations on Thursday.
"We should draw up a good plan for our exchanges and cooperation ... so that more and more people will become supporters of stronger China-US relations and get actively involved in this worthy cause," he added.
Hu's friendly visit to the United States has also been a focus of attention for experts like Ndung'u Wainaina, executive director of the Kenya-based International Center for Policy and Conflict, who lauded the image of a big power that China has shown in Hu's visit.
According to Wainaina, China's image is positive because while building its own strength, China also respects the diversity of other cultures and other peoples, and never imposes its own opinions, attitudes and values upon others.
Local experts also believe more cultural exchanges can better the ties between the world's largest developed and developing countries.
"As China's hard economic and military power increases, it can create fear among other countries. This fear can be reduced by the development of China's soft power," Nye told Xinhua.
"More Chinese soft power in the US and more American soft power in China will help to make the two countries more attractive to each other and avoid the misperceptions that can lead to conflicts," said Nye, who coined the term "soft power".
"The development of Chinese and American soft power is not a zero-sum game, but one in which both sides can gain by reducing the prospects of misunderstanding and conflict."
"We both should welcome the increase of cultural diplomacy in each other's country," he said.
Meanwhile, David Shambaugh, an expert on China policy at George Washington University, also looked forward to more cultural exchanges between China and the United States after Hu's visit.
"Our two countries cannot have enough cultural exchanges -- it is the key to improved relations," he said.
Given the fact that interaction between cultures is the eternal driving force for propelling the advance of human civilization and plays an irreplaceable role in deepening trust and friendship, eliminating prejudice and misunderstanding and promoting world harmony, it is not difficult to understand why Hu's visit to the US drew worldwide attention to its humanistic significance.