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A Familiar Face Back In Iowa: China's Vice President

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When China's Vice President Xi Jinping heads to Iowa on Wednesday, he won't be a stranger.

In 1985, Xi visited the city of Muscatine as part of an agricultural trade mission. The delegation he was traveling with dined and slept in local homes and toured local businesses. He was also given a key to the city. And 27 years later, he'll be given another one.

Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins plans to present the key at a tea on Wednesday. The mayor tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel that Xi will also be greeted by a group of Muscatine High School seniors who are studying Mandarin — a class that was inspired by the vice president's first visit.

"Twenty-seven years later, he remembers the manner in which he was treated and certainly requested a return visit to renew friendships with what's known as old friends at this point," Hopkins says.

The Only One With Two Keys

The vice president is one of the biggest names to ever appear in Muscatine, a city of 23,000 on the banks of the Mississippi River. He's only rivaled by former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who visited in 1959.

"This equates somewhat to that," the mayor says, "but this visit has nothing to do with economics, it has nothing to do with politics, but it has everything to do with a sense of civility and saying 'Hi,' and shaking the hands of some old friends."

Hopkins says the vice president also has the special distinction of being the only person to receive two keys to the city.

"Presenting an individual a key to our city is a practice that was discontinued — I don't know exactly how long ago — but I had to search far and near into the depths of our city hall building to find a key," he says.

He describes it as solid brass and weighing about three-quarters of a pound. On the back, it's engraved, "Welcome back, Vice President Xi Jinping, 2012."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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