Seemingly making an attempt at humor that didn't necessarily translate well into Mandarin, Obama said that "I should be honest, as president of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn't flow so freely because then I wouldn't have to listen to people criticizing me all the time."
He then turned to a more serious point, saying, "I think people naturally,...when they're in positions of power sometimes think, 'Oh, how could that person say that about me,' or 'That's irresponsible.'... But the truth is that because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don't want to hear. It forces me to examine what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States."
The president was asked twice to explain why he won the Noble Peace Prize, which he said he received with "great humility." Obama told the students he believes the award was not about him personally, but the change he believes he represents.
"In some ways I think they gave me the prize, but I was more the symbol of the shift in our approach to world affairs that we are trying to promote," the president said.
Today Obama announced that the United States is expanding the number of American students studying in China to 100,000. He also extended an invitation to Chinese students to do the same.
"I hope that many of you have the opportunity to come and travel and visit the United States. You will be welcome," he said. "I think you will find that the American people feel very warmly to the people of China."
White House officials were clearly disappointed that the president's town hall did not air live on Chinese state television.
One aide said the fact that it did not puts even more of a point on the president's statements on freedom of expression and human rights.
Aides say they are confident the Chinese people will be able to hear the president's message and were happy to have been able to hold the event at all, noting it would not have happened without the help of the Chinese government.
Many of the students in the audience were complimentary of Obama's speech and town hall today -- calling him a "kind," "charming," "energetic," and "passionate," man.
Kind words coupled with many flattering questions, perhaps might just be a trait of the Chinese, suggested one university student, and not necessarily because they agree with everything the American president says.
"I think you have to understand this phenomenon from the cultural aspects because Chinese people are generally speaking very friendly," a local university student who attended the speech today said. "And well they are very humble so basically you know they want to pay their compliments to the president."
Some students expressed different feelings about Obama's remark that more communication and technology bring more openness and strength to a country.
"I agree with that but like Obama said every country has different, different trend and different. That's different. So I think China maybe has its own way to this free Internet," one young university man said.