Orville Schell still has a vivid memory of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's historic visit to the United States almost 30 years ago.
"Deng Xiaoping's trip was equal to the change that happened in 1972 when (U.S.) President (Richard) Nixon and (National Security Adviser Henry) Kissinger went to China," the Arthur Ross Director of the Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations told Xinhua in a recent interview. "(He) changed the whole direction of Sino-U.S. relations."
"You have to remember that the time when Deng Xiaoping came here, there had been many decades of interruptions in the relationship between the United States and China. (The two countries) didn't have much interaction," Schell said. "Kissinger and Nixon had gone to China, but we had not seen a Chinese leader."
"I think it was a bold decision for him to come here," he emphasized.
Schell's personal contact with China can be tracked back to 48 years ago when he took an intensive Chinese language summer program at Stanford University at the age of 20.
Schell obtained a Ph.D in Chinese history from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968 and has since devoted his professional life to reporting on and writing about Asia, especially China.
Schell paid his first trip to China in 1975, and assisted in New Yorker magazine's China coverage for the following 10 years. When Deng Xiaoping visited the United States in 1979, Schell covered the entire visit for the New York Times.
On Jan. 28, 1979, the then Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping arrived at the Andrews Air Force Base, 8 miles east of Washington D.C., marking the beginning of the first visit by a senior Chinese official to the United States after 1949.
"It was something unprecedented." Schell believes the high profile trip "catalyzed the whole attitude of Americans toward China."
"Everybody in the country, all the senators and congressmen, CEOs, diplomats and opinion-makers were keen to get into the cocktail parties," Schell recalled.
As one of the over 200 reporters to cover Deng Xiaoping's entire visit, Schell had seen a very practical Chinese leader with "simple sentences but very concrete ideas."
"Deng was direct and frank. He was always available to journalists, answering all their questions. And as I can remember, the feedback he got was overwhelmingly positive."
For Schell, one of the most memorable occasions during Deng's weeklong visit was when the Chinese delegation visited a rodeo in a small town not far from Houston, Texas, and Deng came out in a cowboy stage coat with a 10-gallon cowboy hat on his head.
"I remember thinking at that very moment: this is a symbolic way of representing the coming together (of two countries). That sort of suggested to me that we had passed the certain difficult time of the relationship, and that we were now heading toward the moment when the United States and China would actually begin to be able to cooperate," Schell said.