Editor’s Note：The article was first published by www.AmericanChronicle.com on June 2, 2011.
You’ve probably heard China sometimes described in American terms, or place names. Shanghai’s financial district is, for instance, China’s Manhattan, and Tsinghua University, China’s MIT. Here is another one: Chicago on the Yangtze. Do you know, my fellow Seattleites, which city is this Chinese Chicago? Well, it is none other than our sister city Chongqing, according to Christina Larson, Foreign Policy magazine editor and journalist with extensive reportage from western China.
Larson may have her reasons to call Chongqing China’s Chicago, but Chongqing is really like no other city, American or Chinese. As one of China’s four special municipalities after only Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, with a population of 32 million, Chongqing is southwest China’s commercial, manufacturing and transportation hub, gateway to world-famous Three Gorges, and with strong historical ties to America. It was in Chongqing, as China’s wartime capital, that American diplomats mediated the famous Chongqing Negotiation in 1945 between the Nationalists and the Communists for a possible coalition government. Other than that, Chongqing is very much like Seattle, with mountains and waters around it. If Seattle is nicknamed the rain capital of the U.S., Chongqing is the fog capital of China.
But how did Seattle of America’s northwest get a mega city like Chongqing in China’s southwest for a sister?
Well, Washington State had a strong tradition in developing relations with China, represented by our late Sens. Magnuson and Jackson. The late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s trip to Seattle in 1979 and our then governor Dixy Lee Ray’s trade mission to China the same year strengthened it. With Deng’s hometown being Sichuan province, an interest grew quickly for a formal relationship. Spearheaded by the Washington State China Relations Council, a non-profit business association, Washington and Sichuan became sister states in 1982, under Governor Spellman.
It was only logical that Seattle, as former mayor Charles Royer said, was interested in getting involved with a Chinese city in the same province. Early promoters for Chongqing, including local members of the National Association of Chinese Americans, business and civic leaders, found a big supporter in Royer. Having met Deng and toured China himself in 1979, Mayor Royer sent a delegation to Chongqing in 1982 to draft an agreement. A year later, on June 3, Royer and then Mayor Yu Hanqing of Chongqing sealed the deal in Seattle, starting a series of exchange programs and a relationship reaching its 28th year this month.
Latecomers like myself missed out on the early programs. Those who were here in Seattle in 1988 had the opportunity to visit Chinasaurs exhibit at the Burke Museum, with three sets of dinosaur skeletons from Sichuan.
Before that, in 1986, Port of Seattle had received a special cargo from Chongqing: a pair of golden monkeys. The two, named Sunshine and Rainbow, lived at Woodland Park Zoo and entertained children of all ages for months.
And there have been numerous school exchanges. Chief Sealth High School and Nankai Middle School in Chongqing, for instance, have been sending students to each other for almost a decade. University of Washington and Sichuan University saw their first exchange program in medicine as early as 1984. Most recent collaborations between the two universities include the opening last year of the Confucius Institute of Washington State.
The largest and longest-going project with Chongqing is still the building of the Seattle Chinese Garden, Sichuan style. With an estimated cost of $40 million, the 5-acre garden in West Seattle is a joint public/private project, with funds raised in both cities. With Knowing the Spring Courtyard just opened and Floating Clouds Tower and more to come, the completed garden will be a lasting monument to the sister relations as well as a place to enjoy for generations of Seattleites to come.
Sister cities started as citizen diplomacy, as Mayor Royer reminded me recently when I interviewed him. Yes, it was President Eisenhower’s idea for peace in the post-WWII world. When I mentioned that he, as mayor, had given his strong push to Seattle’s sister city program, Royer replied, “Yes. For us, if we were going to be an international city, a big port city, we had to have friends like the Chinese and all these other countries.”
He was right. Let’s carry on. Be a fan of Chongqing. Be a fan of Seattle’s sister cities.
Start by visiting http://www.scsca.org/index.htm.