In a speech evoking bodybuilding, civil rights icon Rosa Parks and the power of the individual, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urged a university audience in China to emerge from the constraints of their political system and attain success in the global world. "America is a nation that believes in the power of the individual and what the individual can accomplish, no matter the color, no matter the religion, no matter the ethnic background of the individual," Schwarzenegger told about 500 students at Beijing's elite Qinghua University. "Imagine what could be accomplished if the dreams of China's 1.3 billion individuals can be unleashed."
His reference to Parks, whose refusal to give up a bus seat to a white man sparked the U.S. civil rights movement, suggested that one person could change the practices of an unfair government.
"The small protest of a small woman who weighed less than 100 pounds brought down a racist system," Schwarzenegger said of the civil rights icon who died last month. "The individual can make a difference."
Those comments and others offered oblique but clear references of the practices of China's authoritarian government and collective society _ something the Republican governor had not yet touched on in his three-city trade mission.
The students, however, appeared largely unfazed by his message, questioning Schwarzenegger instead about the relationship of acting to politics and his definition of the California dream.
In the speech, Schwarzenegger acknowledged China's global economic emergence and praised its heavy investment in U.S. Treasury bonds. But he also addressed the country's challenges, even touching on its neglect of disabled citizens.
He mentioned a California businessman and philanthropist, Ken Behring, who had helped liberate thousands of Chinese simply by giving them wheelchairs.
"He says that he has met people who have spent years in rooms with no windows, just lying there, looking at the ceiling, not being able to see the outdoors unless someone carries them," Schwarzenegger said. While his evolution from musclebound Austrian superstar to politics is well known around the world, Schwarzenegger spoke in unusually personal terms about his humble beginnings and the pain of dashed hopes.
He told students how he cried all night after his first bodybuilding tournament in the United States, when he came in second to an American competitor. He said that experience motivated him to move to the United States and begin his career.
"The bodybuilding gave me the confidence, the movies gave me the money, and public service gave me a purpose larger than myself," he said.
Students, clearly excited by the presence of the celebrity governor, peppered him with a range of friendly questions.
One student, identified as Zhou Guang, even asked if Schwarzenegger would write to his younger brother, whom Zhou said was convalescing from a car accident and deeply depressed.
The governor promised to send a photo and a note.
The most challenging question came from a student who asked Schwarzenegger about his relationship with his wife, Democrat Maria Shriver. When he and Shriver argued about President George W. Bush, the student asked, who won?
Schwarzenegger laughed and said he and his wife, a member of the iconic Kennedy family, didn't argue.
"I never looked for a wife that was saying yes to everything," he said. "That's the last thing I need, to have more yes people around." After the speech, students seemed mostly thrilled.
"It was so good," said Liao Zhengjun, a 24-year old journalism student. "As a movie actor to change to governor of the great state of California, he shared about his dream come true," reports the AP. I.L.