Xiplomacy: Xi Jinping and his American friends

(Xinhua) 08:24, July 03, 2023

This aerial photo shows the scenery of Kuliang in Jin'an District of Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, June 28, 2023. (Xinhua/Wei Peiquan)

China-U.S. friendship is rooted in the people and its future lies in the youth.

From serving at the grassroots to being the Chinese president, Xi Jinping has been a consistent builder of friendship with American people.

BEIJING, July 1 (Xinhua) -- In April 1992, the People's Daily, a Chinese newspaper, published an article titled "Ah! Kuliang."

The story is about Milton Gardner, an American who spent his childhood in a southern Chinese town called Kuliang before moving back to the United States in 1911.

Over the following decades, it was Gardner's long-cherished dream to revisit Kuliang, his childhood hometown.

Regrettably, that dream had never come true. In his final hours, Gardner kept uttering the words "Kuliang, Kuliang."

His wife, Elizabeth Gardner, made several trips to China to fulfill her husband's wish but was unable to locate Kuliang. Later, among her husband's belongings, Gardner discovered a collection of faded stamps bearing postmarks that read "Kuliang, Fuzhou." With the help of a Chinese student, she figured out that Kuliang is in Fuzhou, a city in southeast China's Fujian Province.

Many Chinese readers were touched by the story, including Xi Jinping, then secretary of the Fuzhou Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, who immediately had officials contact Gardner and invite her to Kuliang.

On Aug. 21, 1992, Gardner arrived in Fuzhou. On the following day, she finally visited the place her late husband had always missed.

Guests attending a symposium of the Kuliang Friends plant trees in Fuzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, June 28, 2023. (Xinhua/Wei Peiquan)


Xi's help renewed the Gardner family's old bond with China. In 2012, when visiting the United States as China's vice president, Xi shared the Kuliang story at a luncheon.

"I believe that among the people of China and the United States, there are many touching stories like this," he said, calling for strengthening exchanges between Chinese and American people and cultivating a solid public opinion basis for the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.

In the United States, descendants of American families who once lived in Kuliang formed the group "Kuliang Friends" to continue the legacy of friendship.

On Wednesday, members of the group attended the "Bond with Kuliang: 2023 China-U.S. People-to-People Friendship Forum" in Fuzhou. Xi, now China's president, sent a congratulatory letter.

"I was very glad to hear from members of the Kuliang Friends and to know from your letter more touching stories about your connection with Kuliang," said Xi, adding that amity between peoples holds the key to the relationship between countries.

The Kuliang story is a widely told one about Xi's personal efforts to promote friendly exchanges between Chinese and American peoples. From serving at the grassroots to being the Chinese president, Xi has been a consistent builder of friendship with American people.

Muscatine, a tranquil city on the banks of the Mississippi River in the central U.S. state of Iowa, has witnessed the nearly four-decade-long friendship between Xi and local residents.

File photo taken on Feb. 15, 2012 shows then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (L) presents the granddaughter of his old friend Sarah Lande with a panda doll in Muscatine, a small city in Iowa, the United States. (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang)

In 1985, Xi, then a Chinese county official, visited the city. Sarah Lande received Xi. During his visit to the United States as China's vice president in 2012, Xi revisited Muscatine and met his old friends in Lande's house.

"Even though it was raining, it was a glorious day in Muscatine," recalled DeWayne Hopkins, then mayor of Muscatine.

This short stopover displayed the power of people-to-people exchanges. Xi told his old friends, "You were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with. My impression of the country came from you."

"To me, you are America," Xi said.

Last year, when replying to a letter from Lande, Xi encouraged Lande and other old friends in Muscatine to continue sowing the seeds of friendship and making new contributions to the friendship between the two peoples.


During a visit to the United States in 2015, Xi shared his stories of Liangjiahe with the audience at a grand dinner held in the city of Seattle. His narrative helped the audience better understand the essence of the Chinese Dream.

Liangjiahe is a village in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, where Xi had lived and worked for about seven years as an "educated youth" starting in 1969.

"I still recall the uplifting words you shared that day, about your early years in Liangjiahe, how the village had changed for the better when you returned, and that the progress in Liangjiahe was a microcosm of the progress China has made through reform and opening-up in the last four decades," Howard Schultz, honorary chairman of Starbucks, recalled in a letter written to Xi in 2020. "The yearning for a better life that is part of the Chinese Dream reminds me of the American Dream."

The businessman was pleased to receive Xi's reply. In his reply, Xi expressed his hope that the coffee company would continue to play a positive role in advancing China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation and bilateral ties.

Over the years, Starbucks has kept expanding its business in China. In September 2022, Starbucks announced it would have 9,000 stores on the Chinese mainland by 2025 and provide 35,000 new jobs. Its store count on the Chinese mainland reached 6,090 in the first quarter of the 2023 fiscal year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, in Beijing, capital of China, June 16, 2023. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

In many other fields, Xi's personal connections with his American friends have also served as a catalyst for bilateral collaboration.

When meeting Bill Gates on June 16, Xi warmly shook hands with him and said that "You're the first American friend I've met in Beijing this year."

Highlighting "the foundation of China-U.S. relations lies in the people," Xi said that "we have always placed our hope on the American people and wish all the best for the friendship between the two peoples."

Their friendship has bolstered the development of cooperation between the two sides, as evidenced by the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation's cooperation with China, which has made remarkable progress in various domains, especially in the fight against infectious diseases.

During his stay, Gates announced the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation's renewed collaboration with the Beijing Municipal Government and Tsinghua University on innovative therapies for infectious diseases prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, pledging a donation of 50 million U.S. dollars for the joint endeavor.

The friendship between Xi and Gates, linking hearts and minds across the Pacific, is just a microcosm of the broader scope of exchanges between China and the United States, promoting stability amidst the turbulent China-U.S. relationship.

Students from Niles North High School show the placards written in Chinese to express their feelings about receiving a letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping in Illinois state, the United States, April 3, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Ping)


Over the years, Xi has placed significant emphasis on fostering genuine interactions with American youth, sowing the seeds of friendship in their hearts, nurturing future ambassadors of goodwill and building bridges for future China-U.S. friendship.

A Ping-Pong table, a gift from Xi to the students at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington, during his visit to the United States in 2015, was on prominent display at the school.

The table symbolizes Xi's heartfelt expectations that the younger generations of both sides would inherit the spirit of Ping-Pong Diplomacy and contribute to the development of China-U.S. ties.

While receiving a football and a personalized jersey bearing his name and "No.1" on the back from the students, Xi kindly invited them to come and visit China, saying "through travel, you will know China better, and hopefully you will like China."

One year later, at Xi's invitation, a delegation of students from Lincoln High School visited China. In Fuzhou, they learned about the Kuliang story, which embodies the profound and longstanding friendship between the two peoples.

Indeed, China-U.S. friendship is rooted in the people and its future lies in the youth.

In a reply letter to the students of Niles North High School in the U.S. state of Illinois in 2019, Xi expressed his hope that the students would cherish their youth, study diligently, and contribute to promoting friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.

Cascade Elementary School students show their Happy Chinese New Year cards made for Chinese President Xi Jinping, in the town of Orem in the U.S. state of Utah, on Jan. 21, 2020. (Xinhua)

When Xi received New Year cards from the pupils at Cascade Elementary School in the U.S. state of Utah on the eve of the Spring Festival of 2020, in which they expressed their love for China and Chinese culture and wished "Grandpa Xi" a happy New Year, he was deeply moved.

Encouraging them to continue learning Chinese and familiarizing themselves with Chinese culture, Xi voiced the hope that they could become young ambassadors serving as a bridge between China and the United States.

In Fuzhou, many young people showed up at the forum on the Kuliang story held earlier this week, which was also attended by Katy L. Kathleen Barber, the granddaughter of Priscilla Brewster who is a member of the "Kuliang Friends" group.

Noting that the enduring friendship depicted in the Kuliang story would forever be ingrained in her mind and heart, she affirmed her commitment, saying "I will continue to pass it along."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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