When China's Vice President Xi Jinping heads to Iowa on Wednesday, he won't be a stranger.
In 1985, Xi visited the city of Muscatine as part of an agricultural trade mission. The delegation he was traveling with dined and slept in local homes and toured local businesses. He was also given a key to the city. And 27 years later, he'll be given another one.
Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins plans to present the key at a tea on Wednesday. The mayor tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel that Xi will also be greeted by a group of Muscatine High School seniors who are studying Mandarin — a class that was inspired by the vice president's first visit.
"Twenty-seven years later, he remembers the manner in which he was treated and certainly requested a return visit to renew friendships with what's known as old friends at this point," Hopkins says.
The Only One With Two Keys
The vice president is one of the biggest names to ever appear in Muscatine, a city of 23,000 on the banks of the Mississippi River. He's only rivaled by former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who visited in 1959.
"This equates somewhat to that," the mayor says, "but this visit has nothing to do with economics, it has nothing to do with politics, but it has everything to do with a sense of civility and saying 'Hi,' and shaking the hands of some old friends."
Hopkins says the vice president also has the special distinction of being the only person to receive two keys to the city.
"Presenting an individual a key to our city is a practice that was discontinued — I don't know exactly how long ago — but I had to search far and near into the depths of our city hall building to find a key," he says.
He describes it as solid brass and weighing about three-quarters of a pound. On the back, it's engraved, "Welcome back, Vice President Xi Jinping, 2012."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As Ari just mentioned, Vice President Xi Jinping will head to Iowa tomorrow. It's for something of a reunion. Back in 1985, Mr. Xi visited Muscatine, Iowa as part of an agricultural trade mission. The delegation dined and slept in local homes and toured local businesses. Mr. Xi was also given a key to the city, but one can never have too many keys to Muscatine. So, tomorrow, the newly elected mayor of Muscatine, DeWayne Hopkins will give him a second.
Hopkins will also take tea with the man expected to be China's next president, along with several people who helped and hosted Mr. Xi some 27 years ago. Mayor Hopkins joins me on the phone now from his office. Welcome to the program.
MAYOR DEWAYNE HOPKINS: Thank you, sir. Thanks for having me.
SIEGEL: And tell us a bit about the vice president's schedule tomorrow.
HOPKINS: Well, we're to be in place roughly at 3:30 Central Time in the afternoon. I think the vice president will arrive somewhere in the area of 4:00 p.m. He will stay probably not more than an hour and fifteen minutes as he is scheduled to dine with Governor and Mrs. Branstad and a whole host of others at the capital in Des Moines tomorrow evening.
SIEGEL: I gather he'll be greeted by a group of local high school students who've been studying Mandarin.
HOPKINS: That is correct. There is curriculum at the high school here in Muscatine that does include Chinese language and there are a group of seniors that will be assembled tomorrow afternoon to greet him curbside when he arrives.
SIEGEL: Tell us a bit more about Mr. Xi's connection to Muscatine and that 1985 trade mission. How long was he there?
HOPKINS: He was here as a part of a delegation in 1985 to learn a little bit more about agriculture. And as a footnote, I have to think that what he learned, he took back to China and put it to practical application. But he was here and his delegation for, I think, five days. And while here, as you noted, he toured a couple of farms, several retail businesses, enjoyed a cookout that the host families had for he and his group.
And apparently, it was long lasting. As good old Midwestern hospitality strikes, 27 years later, he remembers the manner in which he was treated and certainly requested a return visit to renew friendships with what's known as old friends, at this point.
SIEGEL: Well, did that 1985 trade mission result in any export trade from businesses that are in Muscatine to sell goods to China?
HOPKINS: Well, Bob, all I can tell you is that trade with China has increased since the year 2000 to the tune of 1,300 percent. And I got to think since Iowa's primary mission is to assist in feeding the world, those numbers will probably only increase.
SIEGEL: Tell us a bit, by the way, about Muscatine, how big a city it is and what people do there.
HOPKINS: Well, Muscatine is located on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. We are a community population of 23,500. The county population is right around 44,000. Muscatine is home for the world's second largest office furniture manufacturer. We have a Heinz facility. We have a large Monsanto facility. We are the home of Bandag. A lot of industry in Muscatine and very industrious town with certainly the good old Midwestern work ethic and hospitality.
SIEGEL: And in the history of Muscatine, Iowa, where does this event rate and what would have been a comparable event in the past?
HOPKINS: Well, a comparable event would have been the visit by the Russian Prime Minister, at the time, Nikita Khrushchev. And that was back in, I believe, in the 1960s. So, this equates somewhat to that, but this visit has nothing to do with economics. It has nothing to do with politics. But it has everything to do with a sense of civility and saying hi and shaking the hands of some old friends.
SIEGEL: Before I let you go, Vice President Xi has a key to the city from 27 years ago.
HOPKINS: Yes, he does.
SIEGEL: Have you changed the locks since then or is it the same key?
HOPKINS: Well, I thought about noting that, but I decided that would certainly question an element of untrust. No, to my knowledge, there has never been an individual that has been the recipient of two keys to our city. Now, presenting an individual a key to our city is a practice that was discontinued - I don't know exactly how long ago, but I had to search far and near and to the depths of our city hall building to find a key. And it's a solid brass key. It weighs about three-quarters of a pound. And on the backside we had it engraved: Welcome back Vice President Xi Jinping, 2012.
SIEGEL: Well, Mayor Hopkins, thanks a lot for talking with us.
HOPKINS: You're quite welcome. Thanks for giving us the attention.
SIEGEL: You bet. That's Mayor DeWayne Hopkins of Muscatine, Iowa. Vice President Xi Jinping of China is paying a return visit there tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.