By Emily Lofgren
How it all began…
In 1985, almost 20 years before he would become the president of China, Xi Jinping slept in the bedroom of a young Muscatine Star Trek fan. Xi was 31 at the time, visiting Muscatine as part of a delegation that came to Iowa to learn about hog farming and corn applications.
He was fascinated by the Star Trek paraphernalia in the room of the home whose people had so warmly opened their doors to him. That home, at 2911 Bonnie Dr. in Muscatine, has since been purchased by Daniel Wang and Glad Cheng, of China Windows Group Inc., with the intent of making it a Chinese tourist attraction. It has been declared the Sino-U.S. Friendship House and on Sept. 17 2015, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held to declare it open to the public. Now, visitors from all over the world will be able to visit it for free.
Xi’s experience in Muscatine all those decades ago has lingered in the hearts of both the Muscatine and Chinese peoples. He returned to Muscatine in February of 2012 to see the people who welcomed him here in 1985, who he refers to as his “old friends.” He went specifically to Muscatine resident Sarah Lande’s house, where he’d had dinner years ago.
Lande’s part in Muscatine-China relations has been so significant that she was given the title and gold medal for “Friendship Ambassador” by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries in 2013. She is one of only eight Americans to receive this honor.
Sister States and Cities
2013 marked the 30th anniversary of the Iowa-Hebei sister-state relationship. To celebrate, Chinese delegations from the Hebei province visited Muscatine for a weekend of fun and friendship. This marked another milestone in the deepening relationship between Muscatine and the city of Zhending in the Hebei Province. (Photos from Fall 2013 Visit)
In April of 2013, at President Xi’s suggestion, Muscatine entered into a sister city relationship with Zhengding County. Zhengding County was the site of Xi’s first official career posting. He was serving in that capacity when he first visited Muscatine.
To celebrate the one year anniversary of that sister city relationship in 2014, a free photography exhibition was displayed at the former Marie Lindsay building in Muscatine. The exhibition was organized by the government of Zhengding County and boasted “hundreds of pieces of photography, calligraphy and art works [that record] the friendly exchanges between the two peoples, showing the beautiful culture, natural beauty of Zhengding, highlighting its ancient cultural and historical heritage.”
Cultural Exchanges and Business Partnerships
In July of 2015, a Muscatine Center was opened in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province in Eastern China, by China Windows Group Inc. Mayor Hopkins attended the opening ceremony, as did Muscatine High School students Marci Clark, Alexa Santaniello, Grant Nollette and Zoey Petersen and teacher Angie Curtis. The students were brought to the opening courtesy of Wang and Cheng.
Wang and Cheng have also invested in the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center, a $42 million four-star boutique hotel which will be built in the heart of historic downtown Muscatine and is set to be completed by 2017, as well as in a building in downtown Muscatine, which they intend to turn into a Chinese cultural center.
Muscatine’s Musser Public Library is home to more than 500 books about Chinese culture, with a number of them written in both English and Chinese languages. The books were donated to Musser Public Library through the “Window of Shanghai” cultural exchange project. Initiated in 2002 by the Shanghai Library, the project is a Chinese book donation program that aims to introduce Chinese culture to the outside world through donating Chinese or China-related publications.