MUSCATINE, Iowa–In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Muscatine resident Sarah Lande had no idea that her budding interest in China would leave a lasting legacy. Like many people interested in international relations at the time, Lande looked to learn more about China as it began doing more business with the United States. When well known Muscatine educator and world traveler Catherine Miller organized programs about China for the American Association of University Women and League of Women Voters, Lande eagerly attended.
In 1983, Lande saw in the news that Governor Bob Ray (and later Terry Branstad, who succeeded him) had started forming a sister states relationship with Hebei Province in China and sought members for a sister states board. Curious, Lande applied for a spot on the board and got it. In 1984, Lande, along with other Iowa residents, including Muscatine’s Joni Axel, had the opportunity to travel to China for three weeks as part of an international friendship visit.
The following year, Xi Jinping, now the President of China but then a lower level government official, planned to visit the United States to learn about agricultural techniques. During his trip, he planned to spend three days in Iowa. Lande encouraged the Sister States program to have him spend some of his time in Muscatine. They agreed, and many local volunteers came together to give him tours of area schools and local government buildings as well as to host pork roasts and potlucks in his honor. “It was his first visit to America and he was a little surprised that volunteers did all that,” Lande recalls.
Even after Xi’s visit came to an end, Iowa’s and Muscatine’s relationship remained strong. Over the years, a number of delegations and educational exchanges took place, many of which Lande helped with. Having Chinese performance groups visit Muscatine, as part of annual Chinese New Year tours, has also continued to this day, which Lande enjoys immensely.
After trade talks began between China and Iowa in 2011, Branstad met with the Vice President Xi and offered him an invitation to return to Iowa for a second visit. In 2015, he did to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his first trip to the United States. He made a point of returning to Muscatine, where the mayor and the people he met previously held a reunion. Lande reminisced that he remembered nearly everyone there and all of the things that had taken place. Though this surprised many, it did not seem odd to Lande, who remembered him saying: “you were the first people I met in America. You are America to me.”
Following Xi’s second visit, Lande wrote “‘Old Friends’: The Xi Jinping-Iowa Story,” which draws on Xi’s memories of his trips to Iowa and Muscatine and shows the unique international friendships that formed between everyone involved. Readers may purchase the book in the United States, and Lande hopes to receive approval to publish it in China as well.
For her ongoing efforts to promote peace and understanding between the United States and China, Lande received the University of Iowa’s 2020 International Impact Award. “I am so honored and humbled,” Lande shared. “It’s wonderful for my community and all the volunteers.” Lande represents the third Muscatine resident to receive this award. Mary Jo and Richard Stanley received it jointly in 2010.