The vice-president returned on Wednesday 27 years after staying in the town as a young official from Hebei province, Iowa’s sister state.
Sarah Lande and her husband Roger were one of several families who hosted or spent time with Xi during that visit. Xi spent two nights, in 1985, in the home of Eleanor and Tom Dvorchak. The couple flew back especially from Florida, where they now live, to see Xi again.
Lande said the gathering was “very warm” and “went very nicely”. Seventeen people he met from 1985 were invited to the gathering on Wednesday.
Xi was able to recall many details of his 1985 trip, Lande told China Daily after Wednesday’s reunion.
She said that Xi told the group that when he was in Washington, US officials asked him why he was going to Iowa.
During Xi’s 1985 visit he toured a corn processing plant, a pork farm and a small vegetable farm. In 1985 he slept in the Dvorchak’s sons’ room, they had just left for college and Star Trek character cutouts were posted on the walls.
“He has an amazing memory,” Mary Jo Stanley, who attended the reunion, ”As we each shared our memories he was bringing up details about that first trip that even some of the hosts had forgotten. He was charming, warm and friendly, and the whole thing was a testimony to what individual-to-individual diplomacy can accomplish.”
”Coming here is like coming home,” Xi said. “You cannot even imagine what a deep impression I had from my visit 27 years ago to Muscatine, because you were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with. My impression of the country came from you. For me, you are America.”
His first visit had occurred just several years after the normalization of relations between China and the US, and just two years after Hebei and Iowa became sister states, Xi recalled.
Xi’s stop in Muscatine was part of a weeklong trip. He will fly to California for the last leg of the trip.
Although Xi’s visit to Iowa was framed around his visit to families in Muscatine, the trip is also widely viewed as a chance to strengthen economic ties between China and the state, the largest producer of soybeans in the US. In 2010 Iowa’s exports to China totaled $627 million, an increase from $45 million in 2000.