July 30, 2014

Back in ’85, China’s next president slept in room with Star War decor

A couple in Florida are flying back to Iowa this week for a reunion with a former guest in their Muscatine home — a man who will most likely be China’s next president.

Xi Jinping visited Iowa in 1985 as part of a delegation from Iowa’s “sister” province in China. Eleanor and Tom Dvorchak hosted Xi in their home.

“Of course, I spoke no Chinese at all, but I’ve traveled so I learned how to point and grunt,” Eleanor Dvorchak said, with a chuckle, during an interview.

Eleanor Dvorchak said Xi slept in a bedroom that had been decorated for her sons.

“It was football wallpaper and they were real big into Star Wars, like all kids were and they had finally gone off the college and I had the empty nest and I just left everything alone rather than dealing with it, but after I said, ‘Yes, you can sleep there,’ I thought, ‘Oh my, I wish I had gotten around to redecorating it,’” she said.

Xi was a party leader at the local level in China back in1985 and he was serving as leader of the delegation making a tour of the state. Dvorchak said her goal was to give Xi a quiet place to gather his thoughts and make notes about what he had seen in Iowa.

“He had a mission,” Dvorchak said. “…He was a very nice gentleman.”

The Dvorchaks live in Florida these days, but they’re flying back to see Xi at a reunion organized so he can reconnect with some of the Iowans he met in 1985. Eleanor Dvorchak hinted she’s not that surprised Xi has risen through the ranks to emerge as the future leader of China.

“Let me say that with who I met at the time and with the nice impression that he made, and then knowing his travel background, his educational background, the time he spent in the camp learning how the other half of China lived the versus his earlier days when I guess he was part of the elite — he had the full gamut of experience,” Dvorchak said.

Xi arrives in the U.S. today for meetings in Washington, D.C. He’ll stop in Iowa mid-week for that visit with the Dvorchaks in Muscatine, then he’ll be the guest of honor at an elaborate dinner at the statehouse in Des Moines on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, he’ll participate in an agricultural symposium in Des Moines before leaving for Los Angeles, the last stop on his five-day trip to the United State.

Xi, who is 58, studied chemical engineering and trained as a lawyer. His father was a prominent politician in China until he fell from favor during the Cultural Revolution, when Xi was 16. The family was sent to live in the countryside and Xi worked his way up, serving in the military and moving up through the ranks of the party.

(Reporting by Phil Roberts, Davenport)