Image: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama
Charles Dharapak  /  AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama appear on the North Portico of the White House on Wednesday.
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updated 1/19/2011 9:15:06 PM ET 2011-01-20T02:15:06

Michelle and Barack Obama welcomed a mix of Hollywood A-listers, big business types and prominent Chinese-Americans to the White House as they threw a "quintessentially American" state dinner Wednesday night for the president of China, complete with ice cream and apple pie.

The first lady was clad in an elegant orange-red shoulder-baring gown that swished around her in soft folds, and the president sported a tuxedo, as the two welcomed Chinese President Hu Jintao on a red carpet at the North Portico of the White House. An honor guard stood at attention behind them. Michelle Obama's gown was designed by Alexander McQueen , the British designer who committed suicide last year.

Celebrity star power arrived in the form of singer Barbra Streisand, her hubby-actor James Brolin and action film star Jackie Chan. Big business turned out in force, too, including Microsoft's Steven Ballmer and JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, among others. Among the big names: fashion's Vera Wang, Vogue's Anna Wintour, artist Maya Lin, Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to add some gravitas. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter made the cut, too.

Story: Obama presses China on human rights

The dinner's all-star jazz lineup included trumpeter Chris Botti, two-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz icon Herbie Hancock, rising star Lang Lang and four-time Grammy-winning vocalist Dianne Reeves.

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Jazz pianist Peter Martin, part of the entertainment lineup, prepped for his appearance by springing for a tux.

"I'm finally a grown-up, graduated from renting to owning," Martin tweeted, adding that he was "super-excited" about the White House gig.

Story: First lady wears red McQueen gown to state dinner

Regular folks who find themselves in a last-minute frenzy before guests arrive can take comfort in knowing that it's the same at the White House: Just hours before the dinner, chair cushions were stacked in the front foyer, and harried staff were shuttling flower arrangements to and fro.

New this state dinner: The 225 guests were spread out among three rooms: the State Dining Room, Blue Room and Red Room, then all shuttle to the East Room for the entertainment. There were big video monitors for the outcasts in the Blue and Red rooms to catch the dinner toasts.

Story: So who's at the state dinner? Here's a list

Also new: The Obamas opted against bringing in a high-profile guest chef, instead putting White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in charge.

The White House said the all-American theme was selected at the request of the Chinese delegation.

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PhotoBlog: Check out Barbra Streisand's dress

On the menu: d'anjou pear salad with farmstead goat cheese, poached Maine lobster, orange glazed carrots and black trumpet mushrooms, dry aged rib eye with buttermilk crisp onions, double-stuffed potatoes and creamed spinach. Dessert was to be old-fashioned apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

Obama is known to be an avid eater of pastry chef Bill Yosses' pies.

Among those confirmed for the guest list: the newly inaugurated Chinese-American mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., Edwin Lee and Jean Quan, respectively, along with Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.

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Members of Obama's Cabinet with seats at the table included Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

There were some high-profile no-shows, including three of the top four leaders from Congress: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who declined Obama's past state dinner invitations; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

With the Senate out of session, Reid was home in Nevada and McConnell just wrapped up a congressional trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan and had not planned to be in Washington this week, aides said.

Story: Obama presses China on human rights

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was the only top congressional leader to accept an invitation. Many in Congress see China as an economic threat to the U.S. Pelosi also has been an outspoken critic of China's human rights record throughout her career.

At a White House news conference with Obama, Hu punted when asked to comment on the congressional leaders' absence.

"I think President Obama is certainly in a better position to answer that question," he said, drawing laughter from journalists and the U.S. and China officials seated in the East Room.

Story: First lady wears red McQueen gown to state dinner

Obama punted, too.

Others on the guest list: Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to China, and state dinner uber-veteran Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state. Kissinger also was at the State Department for a lunch in Hu's honor, the same one where Streisand turned up.

After a fancy morning arrival ceremony for Hu at the White House, Mrs. Obama met with the students at Howard University to frame the day's events — both social and substantive — as an "important opportunity to strengthen ties and deepen bonds of understanding." And she encouraged young Americans to study abroad — something she never did.

Story: So who's at the state dinner? Here's a list

The first lady said she and her brother, Craig, were among the first in their family to go to college.

"We were way more focused on getting in, getting through and getting out," she said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama: China's 'peaceful rise' good for U.S.

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama: China's 'peaceful rise' good for U.S.

    >>> it's been called the most important relationship between any two countries anywhere on earth right now. the u.s. and china . massive economic impact, huge differences between the two countries. so much on the line. and tonight the chinese president , hu jintao is in washington for talks with president obama , for a state dinner tonight with three american presidents in attendance. there were tensions visible earlier today between what the " wall street journal " called the world's long-time super power and its rising asian rival. what's happening right now in washington, enormously important for the u.s. let's go to our white house corporate, savannah guthrie . savannah, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. like any relationship, this one is complicated. the president has been taking a tougher tack lately with china , making clear it doesn't want to contain china 's economic rise but wants a level playing field for u.s. businesses and pushing china harder on human rights , an issue the chinese leader was unexpectedly frank about today. rolling out the red carpet , the u.s. treated china to all the pomp and pageantry that comes with a state visit , signaling the country's growing importance and influence, something the president said today americans have no reason to fear.

    >> i absolutely believe that china's peaceful rise is good for the world and it's good for america.

    >> reporter: no longer a sleeping giant , china has the world's second largest economy, growing three times as fast as the u.s. it also holds nearly 11% of u.s. privately held debt, making it america's single biggest foreign investor. but the president today stressed the opportunity china represents for american businesses.

    >> we want to sell you all kinds of stuff. we want to sell you planes, we want to sell you cars, we want to sell you software. that offers opportunities for u.s. businesses, which ultimately translates into u.s. jobs.

    >> reporter: but american business leaders, some of whom came to the white house today, complained china isn't playing fair, keeping its currency artificially low so its goods are cheaper, effectively cutting u.s. companies out of lucrative markets, including competition for business with the chinese government , and turning a blind eye to rampant piracy of american software and entertainment in china . seeming to recognize their pr problem, the chinese bought advertising in new york's times square ahead of the visit. and as human rights demonstrators gathered outside the white house gates today, the chinese leader struck a more conciliatory tone. [ speaking foreign language ]

    >> translator: and the lock still needs to be down in china in terms of human rights .

    >> i have been very candid with president hu about these issues. occasionally they are a source of tension between our two governments. but we can engage and discuss these issues in a frank and candid way.

    >> reporter: the president is hosting president hu for a formal state dinner at the white house tonight. house speaker john boehner was invited, as were the republican and democratic leaders of the senate, but all of them declined to come. speaker boehner will meet with president hu tomorrow.

    >> i did look over the guest list which was closely held. at one end you've got herbie hancock , barbra streisand , james brolin , at the other, every major banker who's been in the news lately, and, again, a total of three u.s. presidents .

    >> reporter: yeah, from the world of politics, the world of entertainment. the president greeted president hu along with the first lady on the north portico of the white house tonight. you said it, we've got three presidents, clinton, carter and obama, former secretary of states kissinger and albright and michelle kwan , jackie chan , barbra streisand , and vera wang wearing the designer, vera wang .

Explainer: Obama, Hu's toasts at White House state dinner

  • Image: President Barack Obama toasts with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a state dinner Wednesday at the White House
    Jim Young  /  Reuters
    President Barack Obama toasts with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a state dinner Wednesday at the White House.

    President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao offered toasts featuring the promises of better relations all around, and Obama used the moment to highlight an agreement that will ensure the beloved giant pandas from China remain at the Smithsonian National Zoo for another five years. Here is the text of what each said.

  • President Barack Obama

    Image: President Barack Obama offers a toast during a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao
    Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
    President Barack Obama offeres a toast during a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House on Wednesday.

    Good evening, everybody. Please have a seat. On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. And thank you for joining us as we host President Hu and the Chinese delegation, and as we pay tribute to the bonds between two great nations and two proud peoples.

    There are too many distinguished guests to mention all of you tonight. But I do want to acknowledge a few who have championed relations between our nations: First of all, President Jimmy Carter and his wonderful wife Rosalynn Carter are here. As well as President Bill Clinton and my outstanding Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

    President Hu, we have met today in a spirit of mutual respect: the United States — the oldest democracy in the world, and China — one of the oldest civilizations in the world. And while it's easy to focus on our differences of culture and perspective, let us never forget the values that our people share: A reverence for family; the belief that, with education and hard work and with sacrifice, the future is what we make it; and most of all, the desire to give our children a better life.

    Let's also never forget that throughout our history our people have worked together for mutual progress. We've traded together for more than 200 years. We stood together in the Second World War. Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans have helped to build America, including many who join us here tonight.

    The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President, today we've shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news -- under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.

    I'm told that there is a Chinese proverb that says: If you want one year of prosperity, then grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, then grow trees. But if you want 100 years of prosperity, then you grow people.

    And so I propose a toast — to our people, the citizens of the People's Republic of China and the United States of America. May they grow together in friendship. May they prosper together in peace. And may they realize their dream of the future for themselves, for their children, and for their grandchildren.

    Ganbei.

  • Chinese President Hu Jintao

    Image: Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House state dinner on Wednesday
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Chinese President Hu Jintao offers a toast Wednesday at a state dinner on Wednesday in the White House.

    President Obama and Mrs. Obama, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, good evening. I am delighted to once again come to the United States and pay a state visit at the invitation of President Obama.

    Since setting foot on this beautiful land, we have received the gracious hospitality of the U.S. government and people. This evening President Obama is hosting this welcoming dinner for us, and has just made warm remarks. On behalf of my colleagues and in my own name, I want to express heartfelt thanks to President and Mrs. Obama and other American friends present today.

    I also wish to convey through you the best wishes of the Chinese people to the friendly American people and extend cordial greetings to people from various sectors of the United States who have given care and support to the growth of U.S.-China relations.

    The purpose of my visit is to increase mutual trust, enhance friendship, deepen cooperation and advance the positive, cooperative and comprehensive China-U.S. relationship for the 21st century.

    In recent years, particularly over the past two years since President Obama took office, China-U.S. relations have made strong headway, thanks to the joint efforts of both sides.

    We have increased exchanges in cooperation in a wide range of areas, maintained close communication and coordination on major international and regional issues, and played a positive role in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region and the whole world.

    Under the current circumstances, our two countries share broader common interests, show their bigger common responsibilities, and face more severe common challenges than at any time in history. As a result, it is more important than ever for us to maintain the long-term, sound and steady growth of our bilateral relations. This is the reality we face, and it should be recognized by both sides.

    This morning President Obama and I had an in-depth exchange of views on China-U.S. relations and international and regional issues of common interest. And we reached important agreement. We agreed that our two countries should increase contacts at the top and other levels, strengthen strategic mutual trust through dialogue and communication, intensify exchanges and cooperation in all fields, and step up communication and coordination on international and regional issues.

    We agreed that the two countries should respect each other's sovereignty, territorial integrity and the development interests, properly handle differences and frictions, and work together to build a China-U.S. cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.

    China-U.S. relations have traveled a extraordinary journey in the past 32 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties. A review of the history of our relations shows that we have far more common interests than differences, and cooperation for mutual benefit as always being the mainstream of our relations. This has reinforced our confidence in further pushing forward our relationship.

    Today both China and the United States are confronted with the arduous task of sustaining steady economic growth and achieving economic transformation. And we both need to tackle the various challenges brought by economic globalization. This has added to our need and desire to enhance cooperation.

    We should pursue our relations with a stronger conviction, a broader vision and more proactive approach. We need to take solid steps and make pioneering efforts to fully tap the potential of cooperation and strive for new progress in China-U.S. relations.

    I am confident that with joint efforts, a China-U.S. cooperative partnership will yield bountiful fruits for the greater benefit of our people, and make new and bigger contribution to the noble cause of world peace and development.

    Now I'd like to propose a toast — to the health of President and Mrs. Obama; to the health of all friends present here; to the stronger friendship between the people of China and the United States; and to the steady growth of China-U.S. relations.

    Cheers.

Interactive: U.S.-China relations

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