UP TO 5,000 demonstrators, supporters and spectators greeted Jiang Zemin on the first visit by a Chinese president to Harvard University.
It was a wet Saturday morning as Harvard played host both to the Chinese leader and what local police called the "largest gathering we've seen since the 1960s".
"It was a great coup that we got him," said Ezra Vogel, the Harvard academic chiefly responsible for making the visit possible. The visit lends prestige to Professor Vogel's mission to promote academic links with China.
More than 100,000 Chinese nationals have passed through universities in the United States in the past decade, including 20 senior Chinese military officers enrolled on an unprecedented executive programme at the Kennedy School of Government.
However, many students and faculty of Harvard, as well as human rights organisations, condemned the invitation outright. A resolution put before the Kennedy School Student Government (KSSG) stated that "lending the credibility of our institution to one who has so cruelly repudiated the ideas of free expression and debate demeans us all".
In response to such criticism, Harvard president Neil Rudenstine stressed that "opportunities such as this are valuable to our purposes as a community devoted to learning because they do give rise to the expression of different and strongly held points of view".
The intensity of debate increased in the weeks prior to the visit, without a consensus ever being reached. A broad-based coalition was launched to protest against the Chinese government's conduct towards Tibet and Taiwan, as well as its suppression of dissidents in mainland China. But both the KSSGresolution condemning China's human rights record and a similar resolution put before the undergraduate council were voted down.
After the visit Professor Vogel believed President Jiang had "achieved a lot in terms of atmospherics. He has been quite successful in breaking the spell of wild hostility that had been floating in the air since 1989."
Coalition spokespersons were angry that the university had been complicit in the work on "atmospherics".
Josh Rubenstein, regional director for Amnesty International, accused the university of presenting President Jiang with a "watered-down version of democracy". Professor Vogel described the questions put to Jiang Zemin as "tough", but many students objected to the fact that they had to be submitted in advance and screened by a panel of faculty members.
The university reneged upon its arrangements with the coalition for permitted sites for the demonstration. Two of the agreed sites were closed off without consultation - apparently under Secret Service orders - only to be filled with more than 100 Chinese children in national costume as President Jiang's motorcade approached.