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Kuliang story of China-U.S. friendship passed down for generations

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By Bai Ziwei, Liu Ge, Wang Yinxin, People’s Daily

Since the 1880s, large batches of foreign expatriates moved to Fuzhou, southeast China’s Fujian province. Many of them would spend the summer in Kuliang, or what’s known as Guling in Mandarin, a popular place for summer vacation located on the outskirts of Fuzhou.

There, they built villas, hospitals, tennis courts, swimming pools, postal offices and many other facilities, and established a deep bond with local residents.

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Recently, Kuliang welcomed many old friends from the United States attending the “Bond with Kuliang: 2023 China-U.S. People-to-People Friendship Forum.” Some of them spent their childhood in Kuliang with their parents, and some boast close relations with the Chinese small town through their families. Kuliang is like a bond that connects them with China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to the forum. “I was very glad to hear from members of the Kuliang Friends, and to know from your letter more touching stories about your connection with Kuliang,” said Xi in the letter.

In 1901, U.S. citizen Milton Gardner came to Fuzhou as an infant with his parents and stayed until his 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 before passing away.

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In 1992, Xi, who was then secretary of the Fuzhou Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, learned about this touching story from an article titled “Ah! Kuliang.” He then invited Milton Gardner’s widow, Elizabeth Gardner, to visit China, so as to help fulfill her husband’s lasting wish.

Since then, the Kuliang story has become well-known to many.

Lee Gardner, grandnephew of Milton Gardner, told People’s Daily that his whole family is grateful to Xi for realizing the dream of a senior American, adding that the Kuliang story has touched many people in the United States.

According to the man, who has visited Kuliang four times, his grandfather and father were both born in Kuliang, and the place was their homeland and also Lee’s second hometown. He said the words of love are universal though in different languages.

He showed to People’s Daily a photo album kept by his family, which records the deep bond between the Gardners and Kuliang. He said the album is the most valuable treasure of his family and would be presented to the Chinese people as a gift this time he came to Kuliang.

Gail Harris, who once lived in Kuliang as a child, said in Fuzhou dialect “I’m home” as she once again set foot on the land of Kuliang for the forum.

Her grandfather Harry Russell Caldwell was an expert on the ecological environment of Fujian province and compiled South China Birds, a book studying bird populations in Kuliang. It’s one of the earliest modern scientific works recording China’s bird species.

Harris noted that Caldwell loved China and the Chinese people, and now his grandchildren have also fallen in love with this country, adding that she very much misses and loves the time she spent in China.

This time, Harris met her childhood friend Li Yiying. They sat down and exchanged slowly, word by word, in Fuzhou dialect. The two friends greeted each other, with hands clasped together.

Harris said that she hopes the bond in Kuliang could be passed down from generation to generation, so that love and friendship will live on forever.

Octogenarian Priscilla Brewster Gill came to attend the forum accompanied by her granddaughter Katy Barber, recalling the old streets and alleys she remembered from her childhood. China is the hometown where her heart belongs, Gill said.

Gill was born in Fuzhou’s Gutian. Her father Harold Brewster once ran a clinic in Kuliang and was the last foreign president of the current Fuzhou Medical University Union Hospital.

Gill lived in China for 12 years and used to help her father take care of patients. She recalled her childhood when she fell down and got hurt, the local villagers would also help her with her wounds. She and the locals were like families, Gill said.

Elyn MacInnis, 72, is a senior advisor of the Kuliang tourism and culture research association. Her husband Peter MacInnis was born in Fuzhou, and her father-in-law Donald MacInnis was once a member of the Flying Tigers, a group of volunteer American volunteer pilots who came to China and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese people to fight the Japanese invasion.

Over the years, the woman has been committed to spreading the Kuliang story.

In 2016, she set up an English website about Kuliang and its history and established the group “Kuliang Friends” in the United States. Today, the group has over 50 members and has grown into an important force driving non-governmental friendly exchanges between China and the United States.

Amity between the people holds the key to sound state-to-state relations. The Kuliang story is a great example of the people-to-people friendship between China and the United States.

Although the two countries are currently facing difficulties and challenges in their relations, they are in dire need of enhancing people-to-people exchanges.

Elyn MacInnis told People’s Daily that their elder generations lived in Kuliang in the past and got along well with the locals, and this piece of history just well presents the good qualities of mankind – understanding, respect, peace, friendship and love.

She noted that the Kuliang story belongs to not only China and the United States, but also the whole humanity at large. She hopes that children from across the world could gather in Kuliang one day and carry on the Kuliang story.

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An old photo of Kuliang. (Photo provided by Lin Yi’nan)

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An aerial view of Kuliang. (Photo by Lin Shuangwei)

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Lee Gardner holds a photo album that records his family’s bond with Kuliang. (Photo by Wang Yinxin/People’s Daily)

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Elyn MacInnis and her daughter use a bucket to draw water from a century-old well in Kuliang. (Photo by Weng Rongfei)

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