Let's Move! Michelle Obama's Tai Chi Diplomacy

Let's Move! Michelle Obama's Tai Chi Diplomacy

Michelle Obama, after spending a week in a nation with less than 5 percent obesity, landed back in her homeland where more than a third of the inhabitants are obese. Let’s move, indeed.


The First Lady left the press–and her husband–behind on her tourist jaunt. The White House barred the press corps from the trip rationalizing that a vacation, not politics or diplomacy, motivated the junket. Mrs. Obama allowed press coverage of just two of twenty people-to-people events. So what, precisely, she did in China, just as how much it cost taxpayers, remains a mystery. The Daily Mail reports hotel staff disclosing the First Lady’s mother “barking at the staff since she arrived.” And we know Mrs. Obama traveled to the Forbidden City and met with President Xi Jinping. But beyond that we don’t know that much.


An exception involves her pet cause of fitness, which provided fodder for photo ops and video postcards back home. The First Lady played ping pong at a Chinese school. She talked up the daily physical education in such schools. “They ride their bikes,” she reported on how the Chinese stay fit. “They walk a lot.” Most surprisingly, Michelle Obama partook in a Tai Chi photo op in Chengdu.


Tai Chi (translated as “supreme ultimate fist” and “boundless fist”) is a martial art helpful for increasing balance and improving psychological health, particularly for senior citizens. There would seem to be a synergy between Tai Chi and the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” fitness campaign, which perhaps explains the strange photo released of a high-heels-and-skirted First Lady mimicking the movements of an outdoor class of Tai Chi students bedecked in unique martial-arts gear.


The FLOTUS gave a speech at Peking University in Beijing where she offered strong statements on the freedom of expression and unfettered access to information as universal rights. Mrs. Obama made reference neither to the People’s Republic of China’s extreme control of information nor acknowledged her own stranglehold on journalistic access regarding her trip. In fact, the Chinese did not broadcast the portion of the First Lady’s speech which mentioned these “universal” rights.    


More lasting than her words will be that surreal snapshot from her Tai Chi session. “Tai Chi is a truly beautiful form of physical activity,” she commented, “and I loved giving it a try.”


Next time, bring your workout slippers.