On a cool Saturday morning, in a hotel basement in Beijing, throngs of young Chinese gathered to do what millions had done before them: dream of an American education.

At a college fair organized by the U.S. Embassy, the students and their parents hovered over rows of booths advertising American universities. As a mascot of a bald eagle worked the crowd, they posed eagerly for photos.

But beneath the festive atmosphere thrummed a note of anxiety. Did the United States still want Chinese students? And were Chinese students sure they wanted to go to the United States?