By Liu Ge, Wang Yinxin, Bai Ziwei, People’s Daily
Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 28 sent a congratulatory letter to a forum on people-to-people friendship between China and the United States.
The event, titled “Bond with Kuliang: 2023 China-U.S. People-to-People Friendship Forum,” is being held in Fuzhou, southeast China’s Fujian province.
In the letter, Xi said that back in 1992, he invited Mrs. Elizabeth Gardner to Kuliang, helping her fulfill the wish of her late husband to return to his childhood home. In the following 30 years and more, members of the Kuliang Friends and people from various sectors of both countries have delved deep into the history of this town, actively spread its culture, and worked tirelessly to deepen mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.
Kuliang is where a touching story of China-U.S. friendship happened.
In 1901, Milton Gardner, born in the United States, came to live in Fuzhou with his parents when he was still in his infancy, and his whole family moved back to the United States in 1911. Gardner had been longing for revisiting his childhood home, but had never been able to make his wish fulfilled.
Gardner’s story was told by an article published on People’s Daily on April 1992. In 2012, when visiting the United States as China’s vice president, Xi shared the Kuliang story with the audience at a welcome luncheon held by American friendly groups, drawing warm response from all sectors in the two countries.
Amity between peoples holds the key to the relationship between countries, and the people are the cornerstone of its growth, Xi said. “I hope that you will continue to write the Kuliang story and carry forward the special bonds, so that the friendship between our two peoples can stay forever strong and robust like the thousand-year-old cedar trees in Kuliang.”
Lee Gardner is a grandnephew of Milton Gardner. Though the man, in his seventies, is physically challenged, he still came to China to join the forum this time. It marked his fourth time returning to Kuliang.
Lee Gardner’s grandfather and father were all born in Fuzhou. This time, he returned to Kuliang wearing a tie in “Chinese red.”
Opening an album of his family, Lee Gardner told People’s Daily that his entire family is grateful to Xi, and the Chinese President’s efforts to help an American senior fulfill his wish have touched many people in the United States.
Elyn Maclnnis, is the Lead Researcher of the Kuliang Tourism and Culture Research Association. Her husband Peter MacInnis was born in China, and her father-in-law Donald MacInnis was once a member of the Flying Tigers, a formidable group of volunteer fighter pilots who helped China fight the Japanese invasion.
After hearing the letter from Xi at the forum, Elyn Maclnnis noted that the three generations of her family all have a bond with China and love the country very much.
In 2015, the woman started studying the history and culture of Kuliang through conversations with the members of Kuliang Friends. In her point of view, the Kuliang story mirrors the peace and friendship carried by this piece of land.
“Thanks to the efforts of President Xi, the Kuliang story of China-U.S. friendship is known to the world. The article was published on April 8, 1992, and me and Mrs. Elizabeth Gardner arrived in Fuzhou on August 21. This was organized by President Xi. He is as easy-going as family,” said Liu Zhonghan, author of the 1992 People’s Daily article.
He said that the forum, which was joined by many from the United States, reflected the people-to-people friendship between the two countries.
Currently, the international community is generally concerned about today’s U.S.-China relations, and it’s more important than ever for the two countries to inherit their friendship, transcend disputes, find common value and establish a heart-to-heart bond, said Luca Barone, who received Xi when the latter visited Iowa in 1985 as the party secretary of Zhengding county in China’s northern province of Hebei.
Barone noted that the Kuliang story is inspiring and shows what true friendship is.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, chairman of the Kuhn Foundation, told People’s Daily that non-governmental friendship is a foundation on which different countries enhance mutual understanding, expand consensus and strengthen friendliness.
Xi’s congratulatory letter is of vital significance for the United States and China to get rid of the difficulties in their relations and restart communication in all fields, Kuhn said, adding that it demonstrates China’s sincerity in developing China-U.S. relations and commitment to cooperation. Kuhn hopes that the people-to-people friendship between the United States and China can be passed down from generation to generation and help the two countries improve their relations.