Exactly 40 years ago, Richard Nixon landed in China for the beginning of a seven-day state visit that was quickly dubbed “the week that changed the world”. It probably didn't, but it certainly had long-lasting effects on the delicate balances of power of Cold War diplomacy. The visit, which had been carefully prepared by Henry Kissinger and his team, quickly became engraved in pop culture thanks to iconic photographs of Nixon eating with chopsticks next to Mao and of the entire delegation admiring the Great Wall.
Fast forward 40 years and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping just completed a five-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, Los Angeles and, quite astonishingly, Muscatine, Iowa. This time there were no memorable photo ops, besides one of the man slated to become the next Chinese president driving a tractor. But Xi did more than that: he captured the soul of a small town that had hosted him 27 years ago when he was a provincial public officer on an agricultural mission. On display were his characteristic smile and his apparently affable personality, which have quickly become part of his public image. (And Xi knows the importance of collective imagination quite well, married as he is to one of China's greatest pop singers.)