MUSCATINE, Iowa–From Jan. 22 through Feb. 5, Chinese New Year celebrations will take place in China and across the world, ringing in the start of the traditional lunar year. To mark the start of the Year of the Rabbit, the Muscatine China Initiative Committee hosted a Chinese New Year celebration at the Merrill Hotel for Consul General of China in Chicago Zhao Jian Feb. 1.
For years, the City of Muscatine has hosted citizen diplomat exchanges with China, initially sparked by the now President of China Xi Jinping’s visit Muscatine as part of an agricultural delegation. The gathering celebrated this history as well as China’s continued connection with Muscatine. The afternoon’s festivities began with students in all levels of Muscatine High School Chinese classes performing a lion dance taught to them by University of Iowa adjunct professor Na Li.
Then, several of the day’s honored guests presented speeches, highlighting the value of Muscatine’s ongoing relationship with China. Former Governor and Ambassador to China Terry Branstad reminisced about Xi’s first visit and the early days of Iowa’s Sister States relationship with Hubei Province in China, crediting Muscatine with helping make those opportunities possible. “People to people relationships are so important, and Sarah Lande helped foster that,” he said.
Luca Berrone, the Sister States chair and one of the people who helped Xi travel around Iowa praised Muscatine for continuing to stay interested in fostering citizen diplomacy with China and exploring its culture through programs such as the Chinese language classes at the high school and junior high school level. “Our future will be much better with all of us involved,” he predicted.
For his part, Zhao thanked Muscatine for hosting him, wished them a happy Chinese New Year, and looked forward with excitement to future opportunities to work with the city. “When we join our friends in Muscatine, it feels like we join our family,” he observed. “We are so proud of this friendship, and this friendship has been able to grow over the decades because of the support of leaders and the support of people in the community.” He continued, “we want to see this friendship continue to grow.” He concluded, “we all cherish this very fond memory of the friendly exchanges and communication between the people of Iowa, the people of Muscatine, and China.”
After the consul general spoke, everyone enjoyed a sumptuous spread of Mongolian beef, orange chicken, and egg rolls along with the traditional Chinese New Year’s dishes of jiaozi or dumplings, and tangyuan or sweet rice balls, in this case filled with a sesame paste. On each table, dishes of traditional Chinese candies and cookies typically given out at New Year’s celebrations offered a light snack in addition to desserts provided by the Merrill.
As guests finished their after lunch tea, several students took part in a short calligraphy lesson, learning how to create the Chinese character Fu, which signifies good luck. The beautiful art they made bodes well for another year of positive growth in Muscatine and for its relationships with the world.