Simonton, Texas doesn't figure in many history books. Orville Schell thinks it should. Schell, a former correspondent for the New Yorker, believes that it was in this northwest Fort Bend County hamlet that Chinese-American relations finally normalized.
In 1979, Deng Xiaoping became the first senior Chinese official to visit the US in 30 years. Deng spent a week in America, kibitzing at a soiree at the National Gallery, taking in a John Denver concert, and then there was what Schell, who covered the entire junket for the New Yorker, believes was the key moment: Simonton's annual rodeo.
A well-wisher gave the premier a cowboy-style duster and a ten-gallon hat, both of which he donned and displayed before the crowd. To Schell, who now serves as the Director of the Center for US-China Relations at the Asia Society and has written nine books about China, this was the money shot of the thaw. To him, this moment was every bit as important as the Nixon-Kissinger trip to Beijing in 1972.
"I remember thinking at that very moment: This is a symbolic way of representing the coming together (of two countries)," he told Shanghai Daily today. "That sort of suggested to me that we had passed the certain difficult time of the relationship, and that we were now heading toward the moment when the United States and China would actually begin to be able to cooperate."
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Simonton mayor Lou Boudreaux remembers seeing the event on the news at his home, which was then in West University. "They had him riding in a stagecoach, and he was a little bitty guy," he tells Hair Balls. "His eyes were barely over the door of the stagecoach."
The Simonton Rodeo was enclosed, and the building had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1990s. By 1997 it closed down and and the building was later bought and restored by Bencmark Wireline, an oil services company. Framed photos of the day Deng came to town are on the company premises, company official Stephen Beck tells Hair Balls.
Sadly, the diplomatic magic of the Simonton Rodeo didn't always take. A decade or so earlier, Fidel Castro also visited the cowboy sports complex, and the US-Cuba thaw is still forthcoming.
- John Nova Lomax