Interview: Prof. Greg Youtz on Xi Jinping's legendary connection to Tacoma
By Wen Liu Sept. 1, 2015
Of all the pairs of sister cities Washington state has with China, Tacoma-Fuzhou is the only one that has a connection with Xi Jinping, China’s president. In October 1994, The News Tribune of Tacoma had this headline, "Fuzhou, China, is added to Tacoma’s family." Who was the Communist Party chief of Fuzhou then? Xi Jinping! Now President Xi is embarking on his state visit to the United States and will stop over in Washington state from September 21-23, including possibly Tacoma. What better time to learn more about Tacoma’s relations with Fuzhou and Xi Jinping? Who better can help us with that than Professor Greg Youtz of Pacific Lutheran University, who serves as the chair of the Fuzhou Sister City Committee?
WCWD: Professor Youtz, I read that Xi Jinping, then Communist Party Secretary of Fuzhou, came to Tacoma in October 1993, with a Fujian provincial delegation, to explore sister city relations. Could you tell us anything you know about that visit?
Prof. Youtz: I was not part of the Sister City program at that time, and was just back from China myself in 1993. But I can say that it has a kind of legendary quality to it when people speak of it now, given that a leader of the 1993 delegation is now the President of China! The City of Tacoma’s primary host for that delegation was Connie Bacon, now a long-time Port of Tacoma Commissioner. President Xi visited her house in Tacoma.
WCWD: President Xi is coming to Seattle, according to both Chinese and American media. Do you know if he will be in Tacoma?
Prof. Youtz: An exploratory delegation from Fuzhou visited Tacoma just last December, preparing for a possible Xi Jinping visit to Tacoma. They asked about Connie Bacon specifically as they too seem to have a sense that that home visit was important to the President. We all remember the stories he told when he made his last, pre-Presidential visit to the U.S. a few years ago about his fond memories of his days in a homestay family in the U.S. Midwest. Connie’s home seems to have left a similarly warm impression. Apparently he remembers that visit fondly.
WCWD: How did you get involved with Fuzhou and also become the chair of the Fuzhou Sister City Committee?
Prof. Youtz: I ran a $1.1 million grant project received by PLU and funded by the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe Vermont, between 2002 and 2011. We took 84 teachers, professors and school administrators to China in 4 summer study tours of 3-4 weeks each. The purpose was to engage more American educators in the study and teaching of China, and we helped create school to school partnerships in the U.S. and China, focusing on both Sichuan as Washington’s sister Province in China and Fuzhou as the Sister City. I joined the Sister City Committee in 2008 as part of connecting that committee to the PLU project and to the Tacoma Public Schools with whom we were working primarily.
WCWD: Could you tell us some of the exchanges between Tacoma and Fuzhou over the years, especially now that you had the 20th anniversary in 2014?
Prof. Youtz: As my friend Lihuang Wung at the City Planning Office showed in the "highlights" sheet, we have had dragon boat races in China, a music festival in Tacoma, a Tacoma-Fuzhou Trade Project with $200,000 from the City and the Port, education exchanges between Fuzhou schools and University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, Bates Technical College, and Lincoln High School. A Tacoma delegation also attended the 2013 Annual China International Fair for Investment and Trade (CIFIT) in Xiamen.
I would only add that we have won several awards from the Sister City International organization in Washington D.C. because of our Fuzhou relationship- particularly as it is unusual for a Sister City relationship to be so involved in business/trade development. The Trade Project, now maintained by Michael Fowler from the World Trade Center Tacoma continues to bring economic benefit to both sides.
The educators who visited Fuzhou have continued to stay engaged with individuals and institutions in Fuzhou. Two educators who went on those trips with me have remained particularly involved- David Morse and Susan Westburg, in some genealogy research on a mysterious American in China…
WCWD: If President Xi Jinping comes to Tacoma this month and you get to meet him, what would you like to tell him about Tacoma and Fuzhou?
Prof. Youtz: I would be eager to confirm what he already knows-that despite Tacoma having only one fiftieth the population of Fuzhou (!), the two are a good match for continued mutual exchange and benefit. Both cities are located on industrial port waterfronts and thus have issues related to water use and quality that could be explored with further scientific and policy exchanges, both require trains and trucks to ship goods from port to often distant markets and thus have infrastructure challenges to share ideas on, both have many excellent educational institutions that could result in many more educational exchanges and activities, and both are in environmentally beautiful and fragile areas that pride themselves on quality of environment, suggesting further environmental exchange activities. The possibilities are rich and varied and both sides have much to learn from each other!