In U.S.-China Talks, The Metaphors Flow Freely : Parallels Ancient Chinese poetry and quick metaphors are the go-to rhetorical aids in the latest meet-up between American and Chinese counterparts.

In U.S.-China Talks, The Metaphors Flow Freely

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Beijing this morning, U.S. financial and diplomatic leaders are working with their Chinese counterparts on a whole range of issues, covering everything from climate change to currency - even outer space.

NPR's Elise Hu is there. And she noticed one thing flowing as much as the coffee at the conference. We'll let her explain.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: The conversations here are quite serious. But the language can be quite colorful. This is China, after all. So to describe the complex U.S.-China relationship, Chinese president Xi Jinping quoted a poet from the thousand-year-old Song dynasty.

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PRES XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) Thick mountains could not stop the river from flowing into the sea. In fact, all rivers have to travel a meandering course before reaching their destination.

HU: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry responded in his first speech by referencing a different Chinese saying but on the same general theme of working together - we think.

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SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Even a thousand-story tower starts with small piles of earth.

HU: The metaphors continued in working sessions, when a small group of press was let into the very end of a closed meeting. NPR's mic caught this one from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

TREASURY SECRETARY JACK LEW: It's like trying to fill a bucket with water that - the bucket has holes. It just doesn't work.

HU: Lew was talking there about the folly of greening the power sector, only to keep building coal plants. The issues Chinese and American leaders are working through can get rather detailed and, in the current geopolitical climate, ever more difficult to untangle. Perhaps thinking about something more figurative, like a tower, can help.

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KERRY: We should be ambitious in building that tower.

HU: Towers as a diplomatic bridge - sorry for the mixed metaphor. Elise Hu, NPR News, Beijing.

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