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Jiang visits Williamsburg; serious work begins today

When Deng Xiaoping came to America, he got a cowboy hat. Tuesday, Jiang Zemin got a three-cornered one.

A day before getting down to the serious diplomatic work of his first state visit to Washington, China's president wrapped himself in the culture of Colonial Williamsburg, where 18th century America's way of life is recreated in traditional architecture, old-fashioned dress and modern tourism.

For Jiang, it was a classic photo opportunity: posing in front of a stately mansion of russet and gray brick, with its distinctively American style of gabled windows and bright white cupolas. His wife, Wang Yeping, was presented with a white bonnet, festooned with ribbons.

When Jiang was presented with a three-cornered hat and donned it enthusiastically, it was what may be this week's most carefully choreographed moment, meant to look as spontaneous as the time Deng, his predecessor as China's leader, waved the 10-gallon hat he got at a rodeo in Houston in 1979.

For Jiang, a history buff who said one of his main goals this week was to immerse himself in American tradition and culture, the visit to Williamsburg was a superficial one. He skipped a walking tour, where townspeople show most visitors the essentials of colonial life, such as how to churn butter, feed a wood stove or lock the unruly in a stockade.

Perhaps Jiang was afraid of running into protesters. Or maybe he was tired, as he told Williamsburg Mayor Gilbert Granger, from the flight from Hawaii.

As it was, Jiang's view of the town was limited to a quick drive through and a 20-minute stop at the Governor's Palace, where Britain's royal envoy once lived in an ornately decorated mansion with a wood-paneled entrance lined with silver-handled muskets.

Not everything went according to plan. Jiang's host, Gov. George Allen, chose to spend the morning campaigning for a Republican colleague. Allen's wife, Susan, read a letter from the governor at lunch.

"May this treasured setting provide you with a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the universal principles upon which America is built _ freedom, liberty and representative democracy," Mrs. Allen said.