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US youths' visit refreshes ties of several decades

Students from Muscatine High School express good wishes with Chinese peers

By ZHANG YUNBI and ZHANG YU in Zhengding, Hebei | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-22 07:08

Students from Muscatine High School and Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School pose on Saturday under a tree with red ribbons bearing auspicious phrases at Longxing Temple in Zhengding county, Hebei province. ZHANG YUNBI/CHINA DAILY

At many tourist attractions in China, red ribbons that bear visitors' signatures and auspicious phrases, such as wishes for career success or a healthy family, are tied to trees, handrails and other objects for good luck.

The red ribbons proved popular on Saturday among a United States delegation of students from Muscatine High School in the US state of Iowa and their Chinese peers from Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School in Hebei province.

While gathering around a kiosk selling the red ribbons at Longxing Temple in Zhengding county, Hebei, the high-spirited students could be heard exclaiming "Look what I've got","Put it here", or "I love this one!"

Known for its outstanding architecture, frescoes and stone sculptures, the famous Buddhist temple is a national-level cultural heritage protection site.

It has been well preserved, thanks to the efforts of people including President Xi Jinping when he was deputy secretary of the Communist Party of China's Zhengding county committee in 1982-83 and secretary from 1983 to 1985.

At that time, Xi spent a great deal of time and energy to get a special fund allocated to the county for the restoration of ancient buildings and sites, including Longxing Temple.

Xi was also among those who worked on building the bonds between Zhengding and the Iowa city of Muscatine, as he led a five-person delegation to places including Muscatine during a visit to the US in 1985.

During the students' short stay at the serene temple before dinnertime on Saturday, the young people from China and the US were able to leave a mark of their new friendship.

Three of the US students partnered with three Chinese girls to buy a red ribbon.

Yuan Yifan, one of the three third-year high school girls from Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School, paid for the red ribbon, which cost her 10 yuan ($1.38).

Printed in yellow on the ribbon were two phrases in Chinese -"splendid future" and "accomplishments in career". Red and yellow are auspicious colors that are frequently used in Chinese art.

The six girls got along well during their trip in recent days, so they all signed their names on the same red ribbon and used their phones to take some photos, and then Yuan tied the ribbon to one of the large trees in the temple's courtyard.

"I just made a wish for health and good luck and to be happy in future college years for every one of us," said Yuan.

The three girls from the US knew one another before the visit, as did their three Chinese peers.

"The six of us got acquainted with and knew one another better in a natural process," Yuan said.

Leiah Marie Lobdell, one of the girls from Muscatine, said,"We have grown close in little time. They are all amazing people."

Lin Yihang, another Chinese girl in the group of six friends, noted that she had visited the temple when she was younger.

"We have gained a brand-new understanding of this place by traveling alongside our American friends and being their tour guides. We want to bring them closer to our culture, including the religious culture," Lin said.

"We had not anticipated that we could be such great friends as facilitated by this tour," she added.

Caydn Alexys Caliger, another girl from Muscatine High School, said the Buddhist statues and frescoes in the temple were a little strange to her.

"It (the temple) was very beautiful. I saw a lot of interesting things and I wanted to learn more about the culture here," Caliger added.

The US student delegation is the second one sent by Muscatine High School this year. The first delegation visited in January.

The visits are part of a program announced by President Xi in November in San Francisco to invite 50,000 young people from the US to China over the following five years for exchange and study.

Xi wrote a reply letter to the first Muscatine High School delegation in February and sent them a Chinese New Year greeting card.

The second delegation arrived in Beijing on Wednesday before going to Hebei, and the trip will also take them to Shanghai on Monday, the last leg of their China tour.

Culture, nature and friendship were among the highlights of their visit to Hebei from Friday to Monday.

They went to the Shijiazhuang Zoo to see the giant pandas, toured the Hebei Museum to experience ancient Chinese culture and watched the China Impression multimedia musical performance presented by teachers and students from Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School.

Students from both nations witnessed the inauguration of the China-US Friendship Youth Woods on Saturday at a park in Zhengding and planted trees, including American red maples.

"I was greatly amazed by the creative idea of planting the woods. The trees will grow, and so will the kids," said William Zhang, a professor of English language studies at Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa and chair of the Iowa Sister States Hebei Committee.

"I told the American students,'Don't forget to travel back here after you grow up and have another look at the trees you planted'," he added.

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