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Rubenstein Center Scholarship

History of China State Visits to the White House

On January 29, 1979, President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter received Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and his wife, Madame Zhuo Lin, for an official visit to Washington D.C. The occasion marked the highest-ranking Chinese visitor to the White House since Madame Chiang Kai-shek visited in 1943.

Madame Zhuo Lin, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, and President Jimmy Carter at the State Arrival Ceremony at the White House on January 29, 1979.

National Archives and Records Administration

Following the welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn with First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Madame Zhuo, President Jimmy Carter and Vice Premier Deng went to the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room for two meetings held during the day.

The State Dinner marked the first official return to the White House for former President Richard Nixon. Nixon and other guests dined on roasted stuffed lion of veal, timbale of seafood, saffron rice, broccoli spears, endive and watercress salad and Trappist cheese, with champagne and white wine. During the dessert of chestnut mousse and chocolate truffles, the U.S. Air Force Band Strolling Strings performed. After dinner, President Carter and Vice Premier Deng went to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for a gala program of live entertainment featuring John Denver, the Harlem Globetrotters, Shirley MacLaine, and The Joffrey Ballet.

The first Chinese head of government to visit was Zhao Ziyang on January 10, 1984. Hosted by President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, Premier Zhao received a formal welcome with full military honors on the South Lawn of the White House.

After the State Arrival Ceremony, President Reagan and Premier Zhao met in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room with U.S. and Chinese Officials.

The State Dinner honoring Premier Zhao was held that evening. Guests dined on beef farcie en croute, poached turbot, and pomegranate sorbet. Violinist Isaac Stern performed as part of the entertainment in the East Room that evening.

During April of 1984, the Reagans went to China for an official visit. During their visit, First Lady Nancy Reagan received a high-necked, close-fitting dress made of red satin with cheongsam brocade from Madame Lin Jiamei of China. Mrs. Reagan decided to wear this dress for the State Dinner honoring Madame Lin and President Li Xiannian on July 23, 1985 at the White House.

President Reagan welcomed President Li with an Arrival Ceremony, where he received a formal welcome with full military honors. Following the ceremony, the two presidents met in the White House.

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan with President Li Xiannian and Madame Lin Jiamei of the People's Republic of China on the North Portico before a State Dinner on July 23, 1985.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

A State Dinner for President Li and Madame Lin was held in the State Dining Room. The 125 guests dined on lime sabayon, lobster, summer squash, and veal tenderloin and were entertained by baritone Gregg Baker and mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry.

The dinner was President Reagan’s first social outing since surgery ten days earlier at Bethesda Naval Medical Center to remove a cancerous polyp in his large intestine. He joked during his remarks: “President Li… told me that once I was totally back on my feet, a young man like myself could expect to have a long and distinguished career ahead of him.”

During the Bill Clinton administration, there were two official visits by Chinese leaders. The first was President Jiang Zemin on October 29, 1997. President Jiang arrived with Madame Wang Yeping on the South Lawn to a formal welcome with full military honors. At the State Dinner that evening, guests dined on poached lobster with lime leaves, lemongrass and corn-leek relish, pepper-crusted Oregon beef, mandarin tea tartlets, Marzipan panda bears, and swirled orange sherbet.

Table settings and decoration for the State Dinner of President Jiang Zemin of China hosted by President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton on October 29, 1997.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

Following dinner, the guests traveled by a convoy of red trolleys to a large tent on the South Lawn where the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, performed a 30-minute program of music by American composers, including Leroy Anderson, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and John Philip Sousa.

The second visit was on April 8, 1999, when Premier Zhu Rongji was formally welcomed on the South Lawn of the White House with full military honors. At a White House State Dinner for Premier Zhu that evening, the tables were decorated with flaming parrot tulips, oncidium orchids, and Raphaela roses on red damask tablecloths with red and white china plates and gold flatware.

The main course was roasted salmon on caramelized fennel and endive, and dessert consisted of orange sherbet and tea parfait with raspberries and kumquat tartlets. After-dinner performances included recitals by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and pianist Sara Wolfensohn, daughter of World Bank President James Wolfensohn. Musician Wu Man played the pipa, an ancient Chinese four-stringed lute.

President Hu Jintao of The People's Republic of China, Madam Liu Yongqing, President George W. Bush, and First Lady Laura Bush walk through the Cross Hall on April 20, 2006 at the White House.

George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum/NARA

President Hu Jintao and Madam Liu Yongqing visited President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2006. While not formally designated as an official state visit, he was still given a 21-gun salute on the White House South Lawn and reviewed a marching Colonial fife-and-drum corps.

After meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office, President Hu was an honored guest at a luncheon in the East Room and featured Alaskan halibut with mushroom essence, butter heirloom corn broth and ginger-scented dumplings, with entertainment of live bluegrass music.

President Hu again came to Washington on January 19, 2011, and received a formal welcome from President Barack Obama, with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, on the South Lawn of the White House.

President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of The People's Republic of China watch the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps pass on the South Lawn of the White House on January 19, 2011.

Official White House Photo

At the State Dinner for President Hu, the tables were set with jewel-toned linens with pheasants and with the gold-rimmed Clinton china, as well as pedestals of berries, flowering branches, and rose bouquets. The menu featured herbs with honey from the White House garden, pear salad with goat cheese, poached Maine lobster, rib-eye, and a dessert of apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

Guests were entertained following dinner by jazz musicians Chris Botti and Herbie Hancock, singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves, classical pianist Lang Lang, and selected musicians from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk to a press conference after their private meeting in the Oval Office on September 25, 2015.

White House Historical Association

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan to Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2015. The formal welcome for President Xi on the South Lawn of the White House included a 21-gun salute, full military honors, and the national anthems of China and the United States were played. President Obama and President Xi both spoke of the importance of the two nations working together. The leaders then proceeded to a private meeting in the Oval Office, which was followed by a press conference.

Table settings and decoration for the State Dinner of President Xi Jinping of China and Madame Peng Liyuan, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

White House Historical Association

The State Dinner for President Xi and Madame Peng was held that evening. The décor combined the artistry of Chinese and Western aesthetics, using the rose—a flower precious to the East and West—as an emblem for the dinner. Guest chef Anita Lo, owner of Annisa in New York City, prepared a dinner inspired by the harvest of late summer and early fall. The meal consisted of a consommé of locally grown mushrooms, with black truffle and slivers of squashes, butter poached Maine Lobster with rice noodle rolls, and grilled cannon of Colorado lamb with panna cotta dipped in a light tempura with baby broccoli. The dessert was a lightly buttered bread accented with delicate egg custard, including a Meyer lemon curd and lychee sorbet. Entertainment was provided by the Sphinx Organization String Quartet of Detroit, Michigan, and Grammy-award winning singer Ne-Yo.