Embodying that bipartisan spirit was Christie, one of the few Republicans at the dinner. "It's a great night for our country," the governor said. "It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or Democrat tonight. You're an American tonight. We're honored to be here."
Of course, some things transcend politics. Outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had only one comment: "Go Bears!" (The president has promised to attend the Super Bowl if the team wins the NFC championship.)
For all his dozens of visits to the White House, Yo-Yo Ma said he was "very excited" to be here again. "Law & Order" actor B.D. Wong admitted he was a little overwhelmed to be invited - and ended up with a seat at the head table. Wong brought his mom and photographed the press pack snapping pictures of him.
Jackie Chan walked in carrying a huge camera ("I just want to take some photos") and said, half joking, that he'd like to talk to Hu about . . . a special trade issue. "I've been listening the whole morning, but they never mention about movies. I'm very disappointed. What about the movie business: how many American movies go into China, how many coming to America, those kinds of things." But he promised none of his trademark moves. "Not today," he said with a grin.
Everyone has been on their best behavior since Tuesday, when Vice President Biden welcomed Hu in a red-carpet arrival ceremony. To underscore the importance of the trip, the Chinese leader was treated to a rare private dinner Tuesday night at the White House, where Obama hosted a small off-the-record gathering - just Hu, national security adviser Tom Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and two Chinese officials - in the Dining Room in the residence.
The official pomp and pageantry started at Wednesday's arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn, complete with honor guards, patriotic tunes and a 21-gun salute.
After the two leaders went inside for meetings, Michelle Obama used Hu's visit to encourage students to become part of the global community during a forum at Howard University on studying abroad. "Studying in countries like China isn't only about your prospects in the global marketplace. It's not just about whether you can compete with your peers in other countries to make America stronger," she said. "It's also about whether you can come together and work together with them to make our world stronger. It's about the friendships you make, the bonds of trust you establish and the image of America that you project to the rest of the world."