U.S. students' China trip backed by Xi builds up Sino-American friendship

(Xinhua) 08:29, February 28, 2024

American students sing a Chinese song during an event to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year in Muscatine, Iowa, the United States, Feb. 9, 2024. (Xinhua/Xu Jing)

BEIJING, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) -- Sienna Stoneking, a first-year student at Muscatine High School in the central U.S. state of Iowa, has just concluded her first visit to China with elation.

While in China, she, together with more than 20 students from her school, went to see the giant pandas and visited the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and sights in Hebei Province and Shanghai City.

On Jan. 28, just before the end of their trip, the American students wrote a letter to express their joy and gratitude to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the invitation.


"China is really huge. Just like the United States. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to come to China," said the letter signed by over 20 students, with some drawing hearts next to their signatures. On the right side of the main text, students drew a soaring Chinese dragon over the Great Wall.

"This invitation to visit China has deeply moved the students, most of whom are visiting China for the first time. Many of them have told me that if it weren't for this opportunity, they probably wouldn't have had the chance to visit China in their lifetime," said Guo Qianyu, a Chinese language teacher at the school.

On Saturday, the day of the Chinese Lantern Festival of the Year of the Dragon, Xi replied to the letter, in which he extended holiday wishes to the teachers and students of the school, and encouraged more American youth to come to China for exchanges and study.

"We are so honored to be part of the first students and educators in the 50,000 student exchanges that President Xi extended to Americans. We look forward to continuing to build a strong and lasting relationship between Muscatine, Iowa, and the People's Republic of China," said Jennifer Fridley, principal of Susan Clark Junior High of Muscatine Community School District.

"We are grateful for the support that we have received from the Chinese government and from the people of China. We believe that our relationship is a testament to the power of education to build bridges between cultures and to promote peace and understanding," Fridley said.

During his trip to the United States in November 2023, Xi announced a program to invite 50,000 American youths to China in the next five years for exchanges and study.

Muscatine High School students present a lion dance during an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Muscatine, Iowa, the United States, on Feb. 1, 2023. (Xinhua/Xu Jing)

Sarah Lande, a friend of Xi's from the U.S. state of Iowa, recently wrote a letter to the Chinese president, expressing the hope that Muscatine High School students can join the program.

With Xi's support, more than 20 Muscatine High School students paid an exchange visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Hebei Province, among other places in China, from Jan. 24 to 30, becoming the first group of American students to visit China under the program.

The visit is in the heritage of the friendship between Xi and the people in Muscatine. Muscatine, a city in Iowa on the banks of the Mississippi River, has been home to the nearly four-decade-long friendship between Xi and local residents.

In 1985, Xi, then a Chinese county official, visited the city. Sarah Lande received him. During his U.S. visit as China's vice president in 2012, despite a tight schedule, Xi made it to the reunion in Lande's house on a snowy day. They gathered around a couch in the living room and reminisced about their joyful memories. The hour-long meeting was filled with laughter.

The warm and friendly American people he met during his first visit to the United States in 1985 have given him an indelible impression, Xi said in the reply.

"During my first visit to the United States, I stayed at the Dvorchaks in Iowa. I still remember their address-2911 Bonnie Drive," Xi recalled in his speech at the welcome dinner during his U.S. visit late last year.

"People are pretty excited about such an amazing story, depicting nearly forty years of friendship between President Xi and the people in Muscatine. So, the story just continues to evolve, the students' visit being just another chapter," said Dan Stein, chairman of the Muscatine-China Initiative Committee.


"We will work hard to learn Chinese so that next time we can be tour guides for other classmates." In the letter, Muscatine students expressed their commitment to learning the Chinese language for further exchanges with Chinese friends.

In his reply, Xi encouraged the Muscatine High School students to revisit China and encouraged more American young people to come to China for exchanges and study.

Guo, who has been teaching Chinese at Muscatine for seven years, is delighted to see the bonding effects of the Chinese language. Through learning Chinese, students have gained a deeper understanding of the friendly relations between Muscatine and China, sparking increased interest in Chinese culture.

"Many students have watched the video we recently filmed in China and are eager to visit. Some Chinese schools also want to establish sister school relationships with us. We look forward to nurturing the seeds of friendship between students of both countries," Guo said.

Students of the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China stage a dance during an event to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year in Muscatine, Iowa, the United States, Feb. 9, 2024. (Xinhua/Xu Jing)

Ryan Castle, the principal at Muscatine High School, said the school is preparing for another exchange trip to China in April.

"I really hope my Chinese can become more fluent so I can visit China more often in the future," said Stoneking. She and a classmate are already considering studying in China. "I will eagerly board the plane when the time comes."

Cultural exchanges have also brought American friends closer to Chinese youth. In Beijing, Wang Yi, a high school junior, participated in exchange activities with students from Muscatine High School.

Chinese and American teenagers practiced the traditional exercise Baduanjin together, performed Peking Opera, tried their hands at Chinese calligraphy and traditional painting, and donned ethnic costumes. As part of a Spring Festival custom, they also wrote the Chinese character Fu, meaning good fortune.

"Although we come from different countries and cultural backgrounds, we have built a deep and sincere friendship. I believe they can feel the warmth of our culture, the warmth of our friendship, and with common expectations, we can work together to create a diverse and harmonious global village," Wang said.

On Feb. 9, the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year of Dragon, an art troupe from the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China performed with peers from Muscatine High School under the theme "Art Unites Friends."

The Muscatine students welcomed their Chinese friends with symphonies and jazz music, while the Chinese students presented traditional dances and martial arts, offering a "Spring Festival Gala" for Muscatine students and teachers.

A few days later, Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, replied to a Chinese New Year greeting card from teachers and students from Lincoln High School in Washington State, who are preparing for their exchange trip to China in March.

The students and teachers felt greatly encouraged by this precious New Year's blessing, said Zhou Shuqi, co-chair of the Washington State U.S.-China Youth and Student Exchange Association.

"We hope that young people from both countries can get to know each other, learn from each other, and contribute to enhancing friendship between the peoples of China and the United States, especially among the youth, to build a better future for our planet together," Zhou said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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