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The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Commentary – A Chinese Student On Covering Xi

By Liyan Chen

When Mando Montano’12 and I drove by the Mississippi River in Muscatine, the water was clear and green, reflecting the blue sky and the white clouds above it. “This is so Iowa!” I thought to myself.

I still remember my excitement upon my first arrival here four years ago. Coming from a crowded Chinese city, I was struck by the fresh air, blue sky and beautiful landscape of cornfields. As I wandered around Grinnell for the very first time, many people greeted me warmly with a big smile. I felt truly welcomed, although I knew very little about this country.

While traveling to Muscatine, I wondered if Mr. Xi felt the same when he first arrived in Iowa in 1985.

He must have enjoyed his stay in Iowa. Otherwise, he would not have chosen to come back. Although his trip has its own political intentions, I do believe that Mr. Xi shares my fondness for the Midwest, the heartland of America.

Political observers have been quite kind when reporting on Xi’s character. But it is difficult to judge only from his public speeches. Nor would it be sufficient to draw a definite conclusion from the Muscatine residents’ good impressions in 1985.

One thing is for sure: Xi is different than his predecessors. He distinguishes himself from the stereotype of a stoic, serious Chinese leader. On the contrary, his trip to Iowa aims to present him as a charismatic, curious and open-minded “old friend.”

He also knows the West a lot better than his predecessors. The first trip abroad for the current Chinese President Hu was to North Korea. But for Xi, his first trip was to the American heartland. His humor reflects his knowledge of the West. When sharing his memories in 1985 with his “old friends,” Xi mentioned that he watched The Godfather even before he came to the U.S. for the first time.

At the Muscatine reunion, one of the “old friends” shared a fond memory of how during the first visit, the Chinese delegation found it amusing to see so many dogs in a household. Xi interrupted to say: “I actually have two dogs at my house right now.”

The room broke into laughter. From the Star Trek posters on the wall of Dvorak’s room to the proliferated pets in the households Xi saw, the initial visit immersed him in American culture.

In my interviews with Muscatine residents, I was surprised at the good impression that Xi and his delegation made in the local community. Genuine, curious, friendly, respectful—these are all words that the Muscatine residents used to describe Xi.

“He knew what he wanted to do. He knew his goal. He was curious and asked a lot of questions,” Mrs. Sarah Lande told me.

Mainstream American media has remarked on Xi’s confidence in the public. After seeing Xi in person, I completely agree with such observations. Throughout the U.S.-China Agricultural Symposium, Xi looked calm and focused, with his signature smile on his face.

Xi went straight to the point in his speech. He tactfully admitted China’s need for soybeans, but he also spoke with great confidence that China is doing well in supplying itself other agricultural products.

Xi’s trip to Iowa was not merely a public relations strategy for his image. It was also a clear message to the U.S. and the world: China still cares about its agricultural trades and food security.

Xi pointed this out in his speech by saying China and the U.S. need to “strengthen mutual trust” and “further boost the development of their cooperative partnership.”

As the largest producer of soybeans, pork and corn in the U.S., Iowa is at the center of this partnership. Iowa’s exports to China alone increased from $45 million in 2000 and totaled $627 million in 2010.

But how can we build the “mutual trust” that Xi talked about?

My answer is through exchanges at all levels, especially at local level. The friendship between Xi and Muscatine initiated only at a community level. It was this originally personal relationship that blossomed into the Iowa-China friendship, which has yielded international attention and a longterm agricultural trade partnership.

For a Chinese student who has been in the American heartland for almost four years, I am proud that Xi chose Iowa. Every time I told relatives and friends in China about studying in Iowa, people often looked puzzled and asked: “Iowa? Io…what? You mean Ohio?”

Now it is time for Chinese people to know more about Iowa and the American heartland and vice versa.

But that does not come naturally and it requires efforts from both sides. Nowadays, more and more Chinese students come to Iowa for their studies. For instance, the number of Chinese students at the University of Iowa increased from 591 in 2005 to 1,731 in 2011. Furthermore, even a small town like Muscatine has a 4-year Chinese language program in its high school.

“The friendship between China and the U.S. depends on you, the younger generation,” Mrs. Lande said.

I believe that she is right. Just as the older generations established the friendship in the past three decades, I believe that the future between Iowa and China depends on us, young Chinese and Americans alike.

“Good luck with your studies, and I hope you will tell your peers more about Iowa,” Mrs. Lande told me. I will always remember Mrs. Lande’s words and my unique position to promote exchange between China and Iowa.

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