Pictured left to right: Mrs. Bai, Mr. Bai, Sarah Lande, Joanie Axel, and Amy Bakke

Dozens of Muscatine art enthusiasts celebrated “Embracing the Land” with photographer Mr. Bai Runzhang at an exhibit and reception held at The Merrill Hotel on Friday.

Mr. Bai was one of the five young men who, along with China’s current President Xi Jinping, visited Muscatine in 1985. During his college days Mr. Bai studied engineering and mining where he ‘fell in love with the land’ and developed a passion for landscape photography.
Mr. Bai embarked on a long government career and retired in 2010 as Vice Chairman of the Hebei People’s Congress of China. Upon retirement, he pursued his passion for the land celebrating it through his landscape photography. His striking and inspiring works are widely known throughout China as well as around the United States.
In 2013 Mr. Bai returned to Muscatine for the 30th Anniversary of the Iowa-Hebei Sister State relationship.   He brought with him his collection of his photographs, “Embracing the Land” and gifted it to the City of Muscatine.
The entire collection was first exhibited in 2013.  The Merrill Hotel hosted an exhibit and reception for residents of Muscatine to again view these stunning images of the rural Chinese landscape.
Another highlight of the event was recognition of the recently released book of memoirs, “Old Friends: The Xi Jingping Iowa Story”, by Sarah Lange and a team of Muscatine residents, Joanie Axel, Amy Bakke and Albert Liu.  Lande was host to Xi and Bai in 1985 and today she spearheads the US-China Scholarship Fund.
Lande said they were inspired to write the book by Mr. Bai’s images as well as the enthusiasm he shares for ‘people-to-people’ friendship.
“Mr. Bai’s next challenge,” suggested Lande, “is to lead a team of Muscatine photographers and artists to visit and explore the beautiful National Parks in China.”
Lande’s book is available online or through the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine.  All proceeds from book sales will go toward scholarships for Iowa students wishing to travel to and study in China.
The book really tells the story of old friends and how those friendships have lasted the test of time.
Mr. Bai, speaking through his translator, friend and book collaborator Albert Lui, told a crowd of about 75, “it is not just about our personal stories, but it’s a story of the great friendships between the people of China and of the United States.”
To honor this friendship, The Merrill will keep six of Mr. Bai’s images on display in the lobby of The Howe Conference Center on the sixth floor of the hotel.
Those interested in the book, “Old Friends: The Xi Jingping Iowa Story”, by Sarah Lange and her team, should visit: xijingpingiowamemoir.com, or call the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine at 563-264-3863.