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Decades-long relationship with President Xi Jinping puts Muscatine on the map for top Chinese dignitaries

Ambassador Qin Gang will visit with old friends of current Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Merrill Hotel in Muscatine.

MUSCATINE, Iowa — The Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, will visit Muscatine on Wednesday, April 20

Gang, who was named the 11th Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to the U.S. in July 2021, will meet with friends of China's current president Xi Jinping. 

Jinping has a long-standing relationship with Muscatine. He first visited in 1985 as part of an agriculture delegation to learn about hog farming. During that visit, he met families, farmers and business leaders, forging a bond that lasted decades.

He came back in 2012 to visit with some of those old friends, meeting at Sarah Lande's home in Muscatine. At that time he was vice president.

"Xi Jinping had a smile that you just wouldn't stop. He was so happy to see the people. It's sort of like they're just long-lost friends forever," said Lande, who's been named an honorary friendship ambassador to China. "Each of the old friends told of a special memory that they had of him when he was in Muscatine, and he remembered them all."

Lande said they held a potluck and the Chinese delegation had never heard of a potluck before.

"They couldn't believe that everybody was bringing their own food on their own favorite dish," she said. "They were used to big banquets and many servants and so forth."

Lande will be one of the people meeting with Ambassador Gang Wednesday at the Merrill Hotel. The hotel and convention center is part of the $41-million project sparked by Chinese investors in 2014. The project included grants from the State of Iowa and Muscatine's sister city, Zhengding.

"Tomorrow will be a big day, it's an exciting day," Lande said. "I hope they're glad to see, be in Muscatine... We just like each other a lot and just want both of our countries to work together."

Muscatine and China have participated in student and teacher exchanges, Lande said. The city even hosted members of a Chinese orchestra opera several years ago. 

The past few years, those exchanges haven't happened as much, but Lande hopes they can happen more again in the future. 

"It was just such positive feelings," she said about Jinping's 2012 visit. "We had such high hopes that it could continue and open up and different things (Jinping's) said, over the time, is that if our people get to know each other, and learn about each other's culture, then our countries can get along. We're sorry that it's tightened up a little bit, but we are still close with the people. And we hope our governments can maybe find things to cooperate on."

During Wednesday's meeting, Lande plans to present the ambassador with a book for Jinping, called "The Xi Jinping Iowa Story." She had previously given a copy of the book to Jinping's wife.

"It tells us about his visits, and then it tells about some of the occasions later that the memories and reflections of the people who were here with this trip and when we saw Xi Jinping," she said. "It's quite a story."

As for the rest of Wednesday's meeting, Lande hopes the group can find ways to continue to help each other, beyond student exchanges.

"Maybe we'll find something we can cooperate on in the field of energy," she said. "One of the areas that seemed that we could cooperate and share knowledge on was the health of rivers. We're on the Mississippi River and they have the Yangtze and other ones and they're polluted over there. But I hope we can keep going back and forth."

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