BEIJING (AP) - First the grand entry up a white marble staircase, the toasts
to friendship, the "superb shark's fin in soy sauce" and other banquet
Then, a little fun.
Just after the last plate of sliced watermelon and orange slices was cleared away Saturday from the banquet tables in the Great Hall of the People, Presidents Clinton and Jiang Zemin walked across the enormous banquet hall to toast the People's Liberation Army band.
Band leader Fan Siting urged Jiang to direct a song. Jiang hesitated.
"You can do it. You do it!" Clinton goaded him with a grin. "Go for it."
So Jiang did, leading the band in a few bars of "A Song for the Motherland" as Clinton beamed and stood with his arm around his wife, Hillary.
Then Jiang handed the baton to Clinton, who directed for several minutes as band members in green PLA uniforms played an American march, "Hands Across the Sea."
The evening began with President and Mrs. Clinton walking hand in hand up the red-carpeted marble stairway lined by cut-glass lamps on the balustrades.
Mrs. Clinton wore a bright yellow suit with flowing trousers and a lustrous jacket with upturned collar and cuffs. She and Jiang's wife, Wang Yeping, who wore a long black velvet dress and sequined jacket, chatted before entering the banquet hall. Attire for the men was dark business suits.
In predinner toasts, Clinton spoke of American admiration for the "great strides China has taken," and Jiang said he hoped Clinton would experience China's culture, its economic advances and its people's friendship for Americans.
The meal was a simplified take on old-style Chinese banquets of dish after dish. Along with the shark came coconut-flavored chicken soup with bean curd, grilled beefsteak, mushrooms and mustard greens, thick pea soup with walnuts, pastries and fruit.
In the back of the hall, the army band played on. Among its Chinese and American repertoire: "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Home on the Range."
Afterward, a large orchestra, the Chinese Musical Ensemble, played Chinese traditional and Western instruments under huge American and Chinese flags. One of its numbers was a swinging version of Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" set to traditional Chinese instruments with a solo on the suona, a small horn.
Clinton told the musicians that "Chelsea Morning" inspired his daughter's name.
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