Michelle Obama invokes U.S. civil rights movement in China visit

First lady Michelle Obama met with young students in China and said that her prayers are with the families of passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. (Reuters)

Michelle Obama invoked the U.S. civil rights movement before a group of students at a large high school in interior China during remarks Tuesday. On the second to last day of a six-day visit intently focused on education, she spoke of her background and told the students that her country had to work to live up to its values.

“Many decades ago, there were actually laws in America that allowed discrimination against black people like me, who are a minority in the United States,” Obama said. “But over time, ordinary citizens decided that those laws were unfair. So they held peaceful protests and marches. They called on government officials to change those laws, and they voted to elect new officials who shared their views.”

She also spoke of how Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds, and named herself, basketball star LeBron James, singer Janelle Monae, businessman Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and her husband as examples.

“These stories are the stories of so many Americans,” she said.

Obama's speech was beamed via satellite to 12,000 students who participate in a distance learning program with No. 7 School, the state of the art high school in Chengdu where Obama spoke.

She later called the distance learning program, which reaches schools in rural areas where many of China's minorities live, a model. More than 100,000 students participate in the distance learning program at the elementary, middle and high school levels, which “has improved the acceptance rate of rural students from less-developed districts into first-tier universities,” according to a fact sheet provided by White House officials.

It was Michelle Obama's second school visit on this trip. She also gave a speech about cultural exchange and free speech during a stop at Peking University in Beijing.

Obama's good-will tour through China comes to a close Wednesday, following a lunch visit with members of China's Tibetan community and a jaunt through a panda reserve in Chengdu.

“Over the past week, as I have seen both the ancient wonders and the modern achievements of your fascinating country, and as I’ve met with extraordinary young people like all of you, I am more confident than ever before in our shared future,” Obama told the students.

In a question and answer sessions with students in a classroom at No. 7 School that followed her remarks, Obama said of all of the Chinese cities she has visited, Chengdu has been her favorite.

“I don't know if this is politically correct, but I told my kids that Chengdu is probably the city I would choose to live in if I lived in China,” she said.

Adding quickly, “I love all the other cities.”

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.
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