Visit recalled deep in heart of Texas

By MAY ZHOU | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-04 07:39
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Kitty Van Dries performed at a private rodeo show set up for Deng Xiaoping and his entourage when he visited Simonton, Texas, on Feb 2, 1979. Now in her 50s, Van Dries is still taking part in rodeo shows and competitions across the United States. GAO TIANPEI/CHINA DAILY

Deng's trip to the United States came just four weeks after diplomatic ties established

After nearly 40 years, Kitty van Dries can still remember and pronounce the Chinese word jiayou, which translates as "go go go" in English.

It was used by late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as Van Dries took part in barrel racing at a private rodeo set up for the Chinese entourage when it visited Simonton, Texas, on Feb 2, 1979.

Barrel racing is an event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.

On Dec 15, 1978, Beijing and Washington announced the establishment of diplomatic relations, which took effect on Jan 1, 1979. On Jan 29, 1979, Deng, then vice-premier, made a nine-day landmark trip to the United States, visiting Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Seattle.

Van Dries, who was 16 at the time, was already an accomplished cowgirl with some rodeo awards to her name. Her late father, Louie Van Dries, known as Luke, owned and operated the Round-Up Rodeo, the venue where the special event was staged.

As Deng and his wife rode into the arena in a stagecoach, Van Dries and her sister Kelly were part of the welcoming party. Van Dries carried the US flag and her sister the Chinese one.

Van Dries had been picked to present a cowboy hat to Deng as a gift, but her horse stumbled and she fell off.

"I was carried out on a stretcher. I had just had surgery on my knee and wasn't supposed to ride, but it was such a special occasion," she said on a summer afternoon in Simonton, where she has lived all her life.

Because of her fall, she was not in the arena, so her sister presented the 10-gallon Stetson to Deng.

Images of Deng wearing the hat were captured by many photographers covering the first visit by a Chinese leader to the US since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949.

Van Dries said that Deng sent his own physician to check on her. No serious injuries were found, and soon after her fall she sat with Deng and his wife to watch the rodeo performance. "It was pretty cool," she said.

Through a translator, Van Dries explained the rodeo events to the couple. These included team roping, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. "They asked me what grade I was in at school and how long I had been doing this. I was a sophomore in high school at the time," she said.

Despite her recent knee surgery and fall, Van Dries left the stand to supervise the barrel racing.

"My father always said that you have to be tough in a rodeo. There has always been a bit of the cowgirl in me, and I have had five surgeries on my knee," she said.

Van Dries heard Deng and other Chinese delegates cheering her in Chinese during the barrel racing. "They were hollering jiayou ... He would holler jiayou, and it was fun to hear him pronounce it," she said.

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