Conceptual plans for a new China garden in Saint Paul’s Phalen Park were released in January to the public as part of a decade long project to celebrate the rich Chinese culture and heritage in Minnesota. Coordinated by Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department and the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society, the garden reached significant milestones in 2015 when delegations between both cities enabled key Chinese architects the opportunity to commence their designs. Covering a large portion of Phalen Park, the Garden will include a variety of installations including an open air pavilion modelled off the Aiwan Pavilion in Changsha, a lakeside pavilion with classroom and a Hmong Cultural Plaza. The Society is also in the early planning stages on the Beiming Yuan – Garden of Northern Brightness in Washburn-Fair Oaks Park designed in Northern-Style Chinese architecture to celebrate the sister city relationship between Minneapolis and Harbin.
This Garden will also serve as a reminder of the deep cultural ties between Saint Paul and Changsha, which became sister cities in 1988. The large Hmong population in Minnesota associates Changsha as their ancestral home, hence the importance of the garden’s Hmong Cultural Plaza. There is a large Asian American population in Minnesota, with 31% of residents in the Payne-Phalen region of Asian descent and Saint Paul having one of the highest concentrations of Hmong citizens in the US. Minnesota’s Asian population was the fastest growing ethnic group in 2013 increasing just less than 8,000 a year. Minnesota has a total of 5 sister city relationships with China.
The garden is just one symbol of the rich relationship between Minnesota and China, initiated by the 1982 sister-state relationship between the State of Minnesota and Shaanxi Province which opened up the gates to a fulfilling trade relationship between the two. Ever since, Minnesota governors have led delegations to China to continue the connection. Their trips have fostered investment opportunities such as the Minnesota based company 3M being the first foreign company to establish a wholly-owned subsidiary in China. In 2014, Minnesota exported $2.23 billion worth of manufactured goods namely, optic fiber, medical instruments, and integrated circuitry making China its third largest export market.
Alongside this, extensive education exchange programs between both parties have continually defined the relationship with Governor Mark Dayton proclaiming April 22nd as ‘Minnesota China Education Exchange Day’ in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Chinese students enrolling at the University of Minnesota in 1914. Today, institutions across the state offer Asian Studies curricula, teacher exchanges and student exchanges in high schools that reinforce the deep cultural roots of both Minnesota and China.
Edward Chang is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at the University of Sydney.