Published: 10:32, May 30, 2022 | Updated: 10:36, May 30, 2022
PDF View
Trips help deepen knowledge of China
By ​Linda Deng in Seattle

Editor's Note: China Daily is publishing a series of stories reviewing President Xi Jinping's visits home and abroad in the past decade, to showcase his vision for development in China and the world.

File photo: President Xi Jinping receives a custom No 1 Lincoln Abes' game jersey with his name on it on Sept 23, 2015. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The visit was nearly seven years ago, but it is etched so clearly on Nathan Bowling's mind that it is as though it happened yesterday.

On Sept 23, 2015, Bowling was teaching a sociology class at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington state, but this was to be no routine lesson. Standing in the classroom before him and his students was a very special guest: Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi's school visit was his last public stop during a visit to Washington state. He would meet members of the Lincoln High School football team and receive a custom No 1 Lincoln Abes' game jersey with his name on it.

"At one point, we had a conversation about whether they could shake his hand or not," Bowling said of his students. "And I was like, 'Of course not. No way.' And then, when he stuck his hand out to shake hands with the kids in the row, the first kid squealed, like it was the Beatles. That was really cool to me. That means they understood the gravity of the moment."

Among the many things Bowling clearly recalls about the visit is what Xi said about China.

Bowling recalled Xi as saying something to the effect of when you go to Xi'an, you see China more than 1,000 years in the past; when you go to Beijing you see 500 years in the past; and when you go to Shanghai you see 100 years in the past.

"And that passage really stuck with me. That's kind of a demonstration of the depth of Chinese history."

Bowling and his wife have visited China many times since 2014. Bowling said his trips to China have enabled him to deepen his knowledge far beyond what people can get from a book. On each trip, he said, he has been "blown away" by the country, its people and their generosity.

In 2019, Bowling and his family moved to the United Arab Emirates, and his most recent trip to China was in 2020, when he accompanied his students to a conference at Concordia International School in Shanghai.

"I have fond memories also of the first host family we stayed with. They were just like everyday Chinese ... middle-class people, who were living very, very happy lives."

"I learned how to play mahjong and how to make dumplings. I think what really made that visit meaningful is that I was able to bring some of that culture and some of the history to my students. And that's what the president offered with his visits."

After exchanging gifts and speaking with students that day in Tacoma, Xi made a speech in the school auditorium.

Because of her involvement with the Lincoln Lady Abes basketball team, Shauntel Berry was able to witness the speech. What she remembered most clearly was the delay between Xi saying in Chinese that 100 students were to be invited to travel to China, and then the translation from the interpreter. Everyone was cheering, probably hoping to be one of those selected, she said.

"Initially, I didn't understand why President Xi was visiting my high school out of all the other schools," Berry said. "Before, I was not aware of the connection between Lincoln and China.

"Having never traveled, I had no prior opinions about China. … I had no idea what life was like outside of my own (country). In being gifted with an opportunity to observe and experience a different way of living, I will forever be thankful to President Xi."

In 2016, Berry visited China as one of those 100 students invited.

"Traveling to China made me realize we're all living different lives, and there's more than one way to live. I took notice of the values and the normality of respect of the Chinese people, a shock compared to here in the states.

"Traveling to China was not only a way to learn about the culture, but also respect the land that my ancestors had once walked. The week spent there was not nearly enough time. There was so much I wanted to explore and see."

Berry said she plans to study in China and would like to learn about the origins of traditional Chinese medicine.

Lincoln High School Principal Patrick Erwin, said: "The president's visit (in 2015) opened my students' eyes to the rest of the world, specifically China. They have never met or been in the presence of a leader of his magnitude, so that made it special, but the gift of travel that he gave to our students will never be forgotten.

"The visit dazzled them, and the ensuing trip changed their lives forever. I have students that planned on studying in China before the pandemic and still hope to do so once things return to normal."

It was Xi's second visit to Tacoma, his first being 22 years earlier when he was Party secretary of Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province. A year later, Tacoma and Fuzhou would become sister cities.

In 2008, to facilitate ties between teachers, students, sports and culture, Lincoln High School signed a memorandum with the Affiliated High School of Fuzhou Institute of Education.

More frequent cultural and educational exchanges after that spawned a fruitful relationship that helped set the stage for Xi's visit.

Last year, Erwin wrote to Xi and briefed him about student exchanges in recent years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the school received about 10 student-group visits from China and welcomed 25 to 50 Chinese exchange students to Tacoma each year.

Students and teachers were forever changed by what they saw in the schools they visited in China, Erwin said.