In a speech evoking bodybuilding, civil rights icon Rosa Parks and the power of the individual, California Governor 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 500 students at Beijing's Tsinghua University.
"Imagine what could be accomplished if the dreams of China's 1.3 billion individuals can be unleashed," he said.
His reference to Parks, whose refusal to give up a bus seat to a white man sparked the US 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 [45kg] 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 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 US 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.
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 US, when he came in second to an American competitor.
He said that this experience motivated him to move to the US 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.