SHENZHEN, China - Seated beside the Communist Party secretary of this manufacturing center in south China, Gov. Jerry Brown offered his host a dissertation Tuesday on "rigor and imagination," technology and his search for quiet in a world full of noise.
The meeting, over tea at a government complex, was the second-to-last stop in a week full of protocol-heavy events in which expectations for the governor abroad were relatively low. Brown is contemptuous of convention, and even he suggested he might have difficulty fitting in.
"These banquets, though," Brown said before leaving for China. "Oh, boy, that's going to be tough."
Yet as Brown traveled throughout China seeking investment in the Golden State, the 75-year-old, third-term governor demonstrated a degree of diplomatic acuity not always present when he was governor before.
For seven days, Brown arrived early to meetings, said "Thank you for receiving me," and gave his hosts decanters and bottles of wine. He praised their cities and distributed his own business cards, clutching each with two hands in accordance with local custom.
The effort reflects the evolution of a politician who, having abandoned his one-time ambition for higher office, says he is increasingly comfortable in his limited role as an emissary for the state.
"I like being governor a lot more than I did 30 years ago," Brown said on the final full day of his trip. "I don't know why that is, but part of it is that I ... have knowledge that I can apply, and as Confucius says, sharing the fruits of your study is a pleasure, and it's been a great pleasure for me."
The Democratic governor and his advisers were driven from Shenzhen to Hong Kong on Tuesday afternoon, and the governor was expected to return to California today. He told Chinese media he expects to spend more time in the country. It is unclear when, though it appears from his reception he would be welcome.
Over the weekend, the Shanghai Daily newspaper described as "brief but eloquent" a speech Brown made at the opening of a foreign trade office in Shanghai.
On Tuesday, the Shenzhen party secretary, Wang Rong, told Brown through an interpreter. "Your remarks give us great enlightenment, not only like a statesman, but also like a university professor."
Helpful to Brown in China is that a major focus of his trip has been promoting greenhouse gas reduction measures. Brown, governor before from 1975 to 1983, was an early proponent of policies to protect the environment, and California is considered a model by many environmental advocates in China.
"Isn't it ironic that the notion of 'Moonbeam' is now reality?" retired Judge Frank Damrell Jr., the governor's former college roommate, said of Brown's old nickname before joining a meeting of nongovernmental organizations and state regulators on environmental matters in Beijing. "He was criticized for talking about things that were not immediate, whether it was water or air. One of the criticisms was the futuristic notions of Jerry Brown, which have now become reality."
If Brown's ideas were criticized when he was governor before, so too was his delivery. As a presidential hopeful he was accused of advancing politics over policy, and he had a tendency to come off as aloof.
"He always had a political instinct," said Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board. "I don't think he was as attuned to what people needed."
Richard said that has changed. Riding an elevator to an end-of-trip reception at the Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou on Monday, Richard nodded agreement when John Harris, a cattle rancher from Sanger, said Brown appeared over the past week to be "just very in touch with his game."
Last week, party officials played a march at a banquet to introduce Brown, and the governor said, "Never before has anyone played that particular tune before I began to speak." He quickly called the music "very good" and praised the host.
By Tuesday, Brown appeared to be at ease. Touring the headquarters of the electric car company BYD, Brown boarded a bus with several Chinese photographers and the chairman of the company, Chuanfu Wang. Brown did two pullups on the handrail, then said to the businessman, "Now, you try."
Brown initially limited his message in China to the environment and trade, but by the end of his trip he was making a more personal connection.
He told a provincial officials in Guangzhou on Monday on that "our relationship should not be limited to wealth creation," but that "art and culture should be a part of it, too."
"So as we create wealth together," he said, "let us also share art and wisdom and philosophy."
At the reception that night, Brown offered a toast.
"To all you people who came on this trip not quite knowing what you were going to get," he said. "I think we've all seen more than we expected and maybe more than we deserve."
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.