Xi Jinping makes a return voyage to Muscatine, Iowa

Xi Jinping talks with local people in the home of Roger and Sarah Lande in Muscatine, Iowa
Kevin E. Schmidt / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

A young, blue-eyed Sarah Lande never thought the polite young man from China, Xi Jinping, sitting at her dining room table in 1985 would go on to become the next president of China. She simply thought of him as a gentle soul with genuine interest in her family’s Iowa roots, sharing a home-cooked meal of pork, beef and locally grown corn.

Wednesday afternoon 27 years later – he returned to the same three-story home on Muscatine’s 2nd Street and walked through the same door, but this time as China’s next president.

Coming here is really like coming back to home,” Xi told a packed living room of familiar faces he met on his 1985 visit. “You can’t even imagine what a deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago … because you were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with…”

Xi first visited Muscatine as a provincial official from Iowa’s sister state of Hebei almost three decades ago. Leading a delegation of four other local officials on an educational trip primarily focused on agriculture, Xi and his colleagues toured local farms and businesses as part of an exchange that began with Iowans going to Hebei in 1984. He met then-and current Iowa governor Terry Branstad and more than a dozen other Iowans in Muscatine he now calls his “old friends…”

Clearly, Muscatine also left an indelible impression on Xi. Upon invitation back to Iowa by Governor Branstad, he requested to reunite with each person he met in Muscatine.

Muscatine is the perfect, if coincidental, background to counterbalance Xi’s highly-scripted meetings in Washington. Aesthetically frozen in the 1950s, the town oozes both old-fashioned small-town charm and the harsh reality of post-industrial American economy. Many storefronts and warehouses stand empty in a place that once called itself the “pearl button capital of the world.” Meanwhile, China has opened and expanded exponentially since 1985, into a roaring economy.

RTFA. There is so much real farm country folksiness in the article I won’t do an editorial job on it. The point for me – perhaps because of my decades dealing with Asian businesses bringing products to sell in the United States – is that commerce sets an appropriate stage for individuals and cultures to get to know each other, affect each other in social ways, in business, in study and friendship.

There was a time in American history when some portions of this nation lived as neighbors to the world – by preference. Better we learn to learn from each other – instead of following the night-riders of bigotry into their pride in conquest and conflict.

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