The New Yorker recently cataloged Chinese President Xi Jinping’s remarkable rise to authoritarian power.
In one section, the author, Evan Osnos, writes about the time Xi, then an up-and-coming Communist Party member, spent two weeks in rural America in 1985. For what’s believed as his first trip outside of China, Xi led lead an animal-feed delegation in Muscatine, Iowa, where he toured farms and visited Rotary Clubs.
For a few nights, the Chinese politician stayed with Eleanor and Thomas Dvorchak. Xi slept in the bedroom — complete with football-themed wallpaper and Stark Trek actions figures — of the family’s son, then away at college.
Eleanor had this to say about Xi:
He was looking out the window, and it seemed like he was saying, ‘Oh, my God,’ and I thought, What’s so unusual? It’s just a split-level,” she said. Xi did not introduce himself as a Communist Party secretary; his business card identified him as the head of the Shijiazhuang Feed Association. In 2012, on a trip to the U.S. before becoming top leader, he returned to Muscatine, to see Dvorchak and others, trailed by the world press. She said, “No one in their right mind would ever think that that guy who stayed in my house would become the President. I don’t care what country you’re talking about.”
Eleanor, also described the Chinese politician as “humble. “He did not complain,” Eleanor told The New York Times. “Everything, no matter what, was very acceptable to him.”
Sarah Lande, the woman pictured above in red, organised Xi’s trip as part of a sister arrangement with the Chinese province where he worked, according to NPR. Since then, Xi has had periodic stints in the United States. His daughter attends Harvard University , and he returned to Muscatine in 2012, then as China’s Vice President.
Upon reuniting with the Dvorchaks, and other “old friends,” on his second trip, Xi told the Muscatine Journal: “You were the first group of Americans I came into contact with,” he said. “To me, you are America.”
Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, likely also influenced his decisions to visit the West. In the 80s, Zhongxun made political trips to New York City, Washington D.C., Iowa, Colorado, California, and Hawaii.
“The father struck me as a very thoughtful and humane and dedicated person, and I’m hoping the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Jan Berris from the National Committee on US-China Relations, who accompanied Xi’s dad in the US, told NPR.
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