Why President Hu Jintao Chose to Visit Chicago

January 24, 2011

Why did Chinese President Hu Jintao choose to visit Chicago?  Here's a short round-up of news articles explaining that.

"Chicago's public schools have the biggest grade-school program teaching Mandarin Chinese in the United States," reports Reuters.  Evan Osnos a New Yorker staff writer living in Beijing tells how that happened:

There was nothing preordained about Chicago being home to a program of that scale. Rather, it was largely the work of a Chicago educator named Robert Davis, who had studied in China and returned to the city to discover that Chinese was not widely offered. Davis approached the school district, which hired him to start a broad-based program. Davis—whom I’ve known for a decade through China work—told me recently that the language program expanded abruptly after he had a chance encounter with (Chicago Mayor Richard M.) Daley at a Chinese New Year event in 2004. “The next day I was called in to see the mayor,” Davis said. Chicago boosted spending on Chinese, won federal grants to hire teachers, and received money from the Chinese government to set up a Confucius Institute, a center for Chinese instruction, housed in a high school.

Sophia Tareen at The Associated Press also points to Daley as a key player:

"Our long range goal is to make Chicago the most China-friendly city in the U.S.," Daley said during a Thursday night dinner attended by Hu, as well as Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, top city officials and business leaders.

Many have credited Daley's efforts so far. The mayor has travelled to China four times since 2004, touting Chicago as a global transportation hub with large manufacturing and industrial sectors friendly to Chinese business.

"Chicago deserves some kudos. It's clear that he's (Daley) cultivated the China relationship and he's learned how to do that very well," said Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution.

Of course, being President Barack Obama's hometown was a significant factor.  The Chicago area is also home to Boeing and Wanxiang, which employs more Americans than any other Chinese firm.  Finally, the choice of Chicago shaped images presented both to Americans and his fellow Chinese, as University of Chicago Center in Beijing Faculty Director Dali Yang notes, "The Chinese system has gradually understood that it is not just the coasts but that people in the middle of the country are important as well...  The iconic image of Chicago in China is Michael Jordan."