Some 7,000 miles across the world, a Chinese city bears striking resemblance to Boston. It features a major port, is home to a flourishing biotech industry, rife with universities and young professionals, and housing costs there are through the roof.
But Hangzhou, the capital of China’s eastern Zhejiang province, is not only similar to Boston in appearance. The cities are kindred, bound together by a sister city agreement signed 40 years ago to the day Sunday.
The anniversary was marked with a celebration of Chinese culture at the Boston Children’s Museum in the Seaport, highlighted by a traditional lion’s dance, an exchanging of gifts, and speeches from officials who have helped maintain the agreement.
“This celebration is a testament to the power of cooperation and collaboration, and we need that now more than ever,” said Carole Charnow, the museum’s president and CEO. “[We] are deeply committed to the values of people-to-people exchanges around the world, so we can listen to each other’s stories find common ground.”
A crowd of children stirred eagerly in their seats as performers from Hangzhou who had traveled to Boston to mark the occasion played the hurusi, a gourd-shaped flute, and the erhu, a two-stringed bow instrument sometimes referred to as the Chinese violin. A young girl squealed with delight as her mother sang a Yue opera song. And, as the program concluded, the crowd excitedly gathered to take photos with Mayor Michelle Wu, the first Asian American to hold the office in Boston.
“We want to ensure that this continued partnership and collaboration and uplifting of the work that’s happening always centers around our history,” said Wu.
The sister city agreement came to fruition in 1982 under the urging of then-mayor Kevin White. That year, White and a delegation of city representatives and members of the Boston press flew to Hangzhou to tour the city and meet with officials there. The trip, which lasted two weeks, was intended to foster relations between the two cities that officials on Sunday said have only grown stronger in the decades to follow.
“Sister city relationships are very important to enhance cities friendships and the subnational cooperation between China and the US,” said Ambassador Huang Ping, consul general of China’s New York Consulate.
Hangzhou boasts the fourth largest metropolitan area in China, with some 10 million people living within the city limits. It is generally regarded as China’s most scenic city, once described by Marco Polo as “the city of heaven, the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.” Several of China’s top universities have campuses there, and Forbes consistently rates it the top commercial city in the country’s mainland.
The celebration, held in a room on the museum’s second floor, offered patrons a glimpse of Chinese culture. The museum, officials said, has long acted as a connecting force between the two cities.
In 2014, the museum sponsored an exhibit entitled “Children of Hangzhou,” which allowed museum-goers the opportunity to meet everyday children from the city in “distinctive Chinese settings.” Its intent, to “dispel stereotypes and demystify China.”
Sunday’s crowd was an amalgamation of visitors from Hangzhou, museum patrons who stumbled upon the celebration, and members of various Chinese organizations in Boston.
Among them were Iju Chen and Rosa Wang, who drove to Boston from New York to take part in the festivities and to meet Wu, “a model to young Asians all across the US,” they said. The pair, both Columbia University students from China, found comfort in the cultural displays.
“We just think this is a particularly important day for Chinese people living in the US, to have our culture acknowledged in such a beautiful way.”