by Xinhua Writers Xu Jing, Xu Xingtang
CHICAGO, April 3 (Xinhua) -- In the hinterland of the United States and on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River lies a small city -- Muscatine. It may be unknown to many Americans, but it has become a household name in China thanks to its special connection with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"FRIENDSHIP IS BIG BUSINESS"
In 1985, Xi, then party secretary of Zhengding County in China's northern province of Hebei, led a five-person delegation to Muscatine in the state of Iowa and stayed with a local family for two days.
Muscatine did not come into the spotlight until Xi, who was so impressed with the hospitality of the local residents, returned to this small city to meet his old friends during his U.S. visit in 2012 as Chinese vice president.
After that, Muscatine and Zhengding became sister cities in 2013, with flourishing cultural and education exchanges between Muscatine and China.
In a cupboard at the entrance to the mayor's office in the City Hall of Muscatine are two ping-pong paddles, a Chinese tea set and a T-shirt, which are gifts from Xi and Zhengding.
In the gap between the mayor's office door and the cupboard hangs a picture showing former Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins presenting a golden key TO the city to Xi when he visited Muscatine in 2012.
The mayor's office is not the only place that has Chinese elements. Muscatine City Administrator Gregg Mandsager has Chinese tea and sesame candy displayed in his cupboard.
Sarah Lande, an old friend who helped arrange Xi's itinerary in Muscatine, has a trove of China-related items in her house.
On the mantelpiece, the piano, and the table there are pictures of Xi meeting old friends in her house. Chinese calligraphies hang on the walls of the sitting room and a replica of China's famous painting from the Song Dynasty (960-1127) "Along the River during the Qingming Festival" hangs high above the bookcase.
Lande remembered the day when Xi visited her house, where many people gathered. "I gave a little welcome as the hostess, then the governor spoke, and Xi Jinping spoke. Each of the old friends gave a memory."
She marveled at Xi's good memory. "He just remembered all the details," she said, adding that they concluded that "friendship is big business."
Joni Axel also participated in the planning of Xi and his team's tour of Muscatine in 1985. She told Xinhua her impression when meeting Xi in Lande's house in 2012.
"We saw the same inviting personality, he has a very pleasant smile," she said, adding that Xi appeared to have an innate sense of curiosity.
"He had a great memory of things that we did in 1985. He spoke of his interest in Mark Twain, he spoke of the river, he spoke of the hospitality. He could remember what he had for breakfast, with a young teenage girl. He could remember a lot of things," Axel said.
FRIENDSHIP PROJECTS THRIVING
Chinese businessman Glad Cheng traveled to Muscatine in 2013 and bought the house where Xi had stayed for two nights in 1985 and turned it into a Sino-U.S. Friendship House.
Cheng then invested in a hotel project, purchased a travel agency and two homes, and a building in downtown Muscatine.
Cheng plans to turn the downtown building into a Sino-U.S. Friendship Center to showcase to both Chinese and American visitors the story of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, the Flying Tigers heroes, and the cultural, educational and trade exchanges between China and the United States by way of pictures and articles. He also plans to plant peonies in the vast garden surrounding the house he bought on the Mississippi River, to make it a tourist attraction.
Similar to the Sino-U.S. Friendship Center, Cheng also opened two Muscatine Centers in China: one in Jinan, capital of East China's Shandong Province; and the other in Yiwu in East China's Zhejiang Province.
With the help of Cheng and his partner Daniel Wang, Muscatine High School is now offering a 4-year Chinese course, with more than 200 students currently learning Chinese, and the school choir attended the 13th China International Chorus Festival in 2016.
Wanxiang America, a Chinese enterprise with numerous investments in the United States, joined the efforts in February by providing funds for students in Muscatine to study in China.
Strolling on the streets of Muscatine, a Chinese can always find cordial smiling faces and greetings from local residents. Occasionally, you will hear the Chinese greeting "ni hao" from a local.
"To me it's a good relationship," said Dan Stein, senior vice president of CBI Bank and Trust and chairman of the Muscatine China Initiative Committee. "The United States wouldn't be as good as it is if China didn't develop like it has. But because it developed so rapidly, it helps our companies, everything is better. I want to keep seeing both countries like this."