MUSCATINE, Iowa — You may now rightly address Sarah Lande as “Madame Friendship Ambassador.”
Lande, of Muscatine, is one of eight Americans — and 94 people overall — to receive a gold medal and the title Friendship Ambassador from the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
The group began awarding the titles — and the medals — in 1990.
Lande is one of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Old Friends and on Sunday and Monday she was a co-host for an official delegation from Hebei Province in Muscatine that was here celebrating 30 years of Sister State relations with Iowa.
Lande, who’s worked for decades to increase educational and cultural exchanges for Chinese and Americans, received her medal Sunday night during a banquet attended by about 200 people at Geneva Golf and Country Club.
“I’m humbled and honored to receive this wonderful award,” said Lande, former executive director of the Iowa Sister States organization. “Everything I’ve done I’ve done with my heart because I care. For me it was a pleasurable thing to do.”
An official delegation of more than 80 visitors from China — along with a large number of Chinese media outlets — was in town Oct. 20-21 for Sunday’s gala banquet, a tour of the Pearl City, a trip along the Mississippi River aboard the Pearl Button paddle-wheeler — and an announcement of what’s to come from a deepening of friendship and trust between Muscatine and China.
“Muscatine is even more beautiful than I thought,” said Zhao Benshun, party secretary of Hebei Committee of the Communist Party of China. He expressed gratitude “on behalf of 72 million Hebei residents” and said he looked forward to Tuesday’s agreement-signing ceremony in Des Moines, where American and Chinese officials will sign deals for a variety of business- and culture-related exchanges.
“There’s a Chinese saying: Flowers in spring, fruit in the autumn,” he said. “Our relationship is beginning a new stage.”
Tony Joseph, chairman of the Mayor’s Muscatine-China Initiatives Committee, announced during the banquet that groups on both sides of the Pacific will be working on beginning a variety of business, education, cultural and sports-related initiatives during the coming year, including:
- A table tennis exchange
- A photographic exchange including Muscatine’s historic sites
- Educational exchanges, including a plan to replicate Muscatine Community College in Zhengding County, China
- A scientific symposium held in Muscatine to discuss environmental protection
- An education summit on the wise use of technology
- Development of a “Xi Trail,” a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited Muscatine in 1985 and 2012. The trail will include Muscatine, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque and will focus on golf, fishing and photography
- An annual business trade show.
In all, Joseph said, more than 20 memoranda of understanding will be signed Tuesday. The delegation departed late Monday afternoon for Des Moines, where it was scheduled to meet with Gov. Terry Branstad and other state officials.
During Tuesday’s signing ceremony, government officials and company executives were expected to sign agreements on trade, agriculture, tourism and education worth in excess of $1 billion, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority. China is Iowa’s fourth-largest trading partner. Iowa’s top exports to China include machinery, vehicles, processed meats, cereals and animal feed.
The Chinese delegation and their American hosts held a Friendship Ceremony Monday morning at the Riverview Center that featured a gift for Xi created by Muscatine artist Joe Barnard. The granite art featured a portrait of Xi and two birds that symbolize the two countries, the eagle and the crane.
Zhou, who led the delegation, beamed throughout Monday’s ceremony, calling his Muscatine hosts “smart, hard-working and kind. You are friends we can trust. Now I really understand what President Xi Jinping meant when he said last year, ‘To me, you are America.’”
The visitors toured Grain Processing Corp. on Monday, ate lunch there, made a few additional stops and participated in a business roundtable discussion Monday afternoon (see accompanying story in today's paper).
Mayor DeWayne Hopkins called Sunday’s Fun and Friendship banquet “one of the most honorable events for some of the most honorable people we’ve ever hosted in Muscatine. You didn’t have to stop here,” he told the delegation, noting that their next stop was an important visit to Des Moines, “but we know you stopped here because your president has footsteps here.”