The day they shot bin Laden

By Cheng Yingqi (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-15 08:27
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BEIJING - "Where were you when ...?"

It's a question often surrounding dramatic world events, and while most of us remember learning about the death of Osama bin Laden from the TV, Internet or word of mouth, it was a very different story for 25-year-old Chinese intern Gong Xiaosi.

She was right inside the White House when it happened.

So while media outlets were waiting on May 1 to hear why US President Barack Obama had called a sudden news conference on a Sunday night, Gong had a view behind the scenes, witnessing the politicians talk firsthand and seeing their considerations behind the carefully orchestrated public release.

The day they shot bin Laden
Gong? Xiaosi, a 25-year-old from Chengdu, recalls her 10-day intership in the white house

"The government officials and politicians had a lot of discussions about how to set the tone, and I was so lucky to be in the State Department to witness this," Gong said.

The US government was initially trapped in a dilemma about what manner to adopt - if President Barack Obama celebrated bin Laden's death with joy, it could hurt the feelings of family members of those who died in the war against terrorism and those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

However, if the president showed grief in his speech, it would not enhance the confidence of the people.

"That is why President Obama did not receive any media interviews on the day after bin Laden's death, because it was almost impossible to find a balance, and it was improper to celebrate this issue in the name of the US government," Gong said.

Instead of the president, senators and officials of the US Department of Homeland Security announced the killing as the United States' biggest victory against terrorism.

Another observation Gong found interesting was that the US government did not release any pictures of bin Laden.

"In the White House I saw a number of photos of the killing. To be frank, some looked rather dreadful with the man shot in the head and in the chest," Gong said.

White House officials worried that the photos would provoke revenge from terrorists, so they kept them from view.

"But when dealing with the issue, the politicians sometimes neglected the feelings of people from other countries, especially from Pakistan," Gong said.

Of the 26 interns selected worldwide to work in the White House, one was from Pakistan and was quite embarrassed when US officials kept talking about how dangerous and terrible Pakistan was.

"If the Pakistani intern were an extreme person, she would probably harbor hatred in her heart," Gong said.

Gong applied for the internship in December 2010 when the US government promised to open its gates to 26 successful females from around the globe in May.

Recommended by the Chengdu consulate of the US embassy as a promising business leader, Gong won the opportunity after two rounds of interviews.

"For me, this offers a wonderful opportunity to see the top politicians of the US face to face. As for the reason I was chosen, I guess it was my overseas experience and diligence, which supposedly represents the new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs," Gong said.

Born the daughter of a successful business couple in Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan province, Gong received a good education, enrolled in Columbia University at the age of 17 and became a designer for luxury brand Gucci after that.

In 2008, Gong returned to China to take over the family's machinery business from her parents, and managed to post yearly growth of 20 to 30 percent for the company.

"My internship in the US is also beneficial for my own career, because I learned so much from talking to politicians, bankers and entrepreneurs, who usually have to take everything into consideration," Gong said.

After spending 10 days in the White House, Gong did internships at other companies, including having the opportunity to exchange ideas with company executives of DuPont, before going back to China on May 31.

"I felt that every minute of the internship was giving me some new ideas, which I will digest and utilize for decades," she said.