May 2021 City of the Month: Denver, CO
The Denver-Kunming Sister-City Relationship
Denver and Kunming have been official sister cities for thirty four years, since 1986. The thirty-four years of history can be separated into three parts, the establishment of the relationship (before to 1999), middle age of the relationship (2000-2005), and recent age of the relationship (2006-today)
Before They Were Sister-city
In 1984, Denver first showed interest in building up a relationship with Kunming during the annual meeting of the Sister-Cities International organization. Later that year, the government of Yunnan Province, where Kunming is located, and the government of Kunming City agreed to form a Friendship City relationship with Denver. Throughout 1985, the two cities consistently sent groups to visit each other in order to gain knowledge about their respective societies and cultures. Mr. John H Yee (易岳汉）was heavily involved in establishing the relationship at the time, and helped the two cities communicate better with his strong Chinese and American background. This work resulted in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) agreeing by the end of that year to advance the relationship to a Sister City agreement.
Early Stage of the Relationship (1986-1999)
At the beginning of 1986, the Mayor of Denver, Federico Peña, invited the Mayor of Kunming to Denver to formalize the new Denver-Kunming Sister City relationship. The Sister City agreement was officially signed and formalized in May of the same year. The same year, The Kunming Committee was created by the Sister City International in Denver to keep up and maintain the relationship between two cities. Since then, the two cities have organized multiple trips for various exchange purposes including businesses, education, and tourism.
One of the longest standing programs is the Denver-Kunming student exchange program, established in 1995. The first exchange was between Cherry Creek High School and Kunming Foreign Language High School, which had been visited by an official Denver delegation in a previous year.
Two years later, the City of Kunming Park was built in Denver. Kunming sent stones from their famous Stone Forest for the park. These stones are among some of the most distinctive in the world, visually marking the Chinese landscape in artistic fashion, often replicated in both traditional and modern art forms, particularly in painting. The official Kunming delegation was invited to attend the ceremony and installation in Kunming Park.
Middle Stage of the Relationship (2000-2005)
In the year 2000, as a reciprocal gift for the stones from Stone Forest sent by Kunming, Denver gifted rocks from Red Rocks to Kunming. These rocks are likewise as distinctive to the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains as the Stone Forest is to Yunnan; both gifts reflect in their physical nature a long-lasting commitment. A year later, to honor the 15 years of the relationship between two cities, Kunming decided to gift Denver a Bronze Peacock Sculpture — “Good Fortune is Here to Stay” by the artist Yuan Xiaocen (袁晓岑).
In the year of 2002, Denver sent the Assistant to the Mayor with a group of four people to Kunming to discuss building a Denver park in Kunming. According to Kunming Information Port, the process went smoothly and both parties felt confident about the idea; however, there is no additional information about the Denver park in Kunming or the reason why this project stopped suddenly.
Later that year, the Kunming Committee of Sister-City International helped the second wave of exchange students between Kunming Foreign Language School and Denver’s West High School. Kunming Foreign Language School was one of only seven schools in the PRC chosen to participate in the US State Department “US-China Discovery Youth initiative.”
Current Stage of the Relationship (2006-Now)
The achievements accomplished by Denver and Kunming during the latest period of their relationship demonstrates that their cooperation extends into multiple aspects of their cities. In 2006, Denver invited Kunming Youth and Children’s Art Ensemble to visit and perform in Denver. Along with this visit came multiple visits from each city in later years.
In 2011, Denver and Kunming celebrated the 25th Anniversary of their Sister City relationship. That same year, the Denver-Kunming Trade Talks conference was organized by the Kunming Committee, with Kunming and Denver business representatives attending. The Conference was founded to help businesses in Kunming and Denver discuss their ideas, help create connections between them, and eventually promote partnerships.
In the next year, Denver asked Kunming to work together in Nairobi to develop a Sino-African Initiative (SAI) Grant proposal. According to the Sino-Afrrican Initiative website, “The purpose of the grant is to research and determine feasible urban poverty alleviation and corporate social responsibility projects and best practices that utilize people, businesses, and local governments from China, Africa, and the United States through sister cities activities”(Sino-African Initiative FAQs). It was a two year program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and successfully provided clean drinking water to public schools in Nairobi. Two years later, this SAI project won the Most Innovative Award from Sister Cities International for both Denver and Kunming. Due to the success of the SAI project, a second Sister Cities International grant program was funded to work on improving sanitation and waste collection in African communities.
Also in the year of 2012, the Kunming committee provided supplies to Metropolitan State University for their exchange program with Yunan Television and Radio University. The Kunming Committee had helped two universities become sister-schools in the previous year. This is the first University relationship between two cities.
Kunming and Denver also interacted with each other in the sports field. The Kunming Sports Delegation met with Kunming Committee of Sister Cities International and City officials in Denver in 2015. The Kunming Committee sent runners representing Denver to run in the famous Kunming Half-Marathon in response to the invitation from the City of Kunming.
Due to the Covid-19, there are less activities than before in recent years. But however, they manage to maintain the relationship of exchanging students, and plan on more future events.
The history and practical outcomes of the Denver and Kunming relationship demonstrate how cities located on different continents and from different cultures can achieve unprecedented cooperation, such as their collaboration in Nairobi to help the environment of the world and living conditions for human beings, their park improvements, and the student exchange programs. The success of Denver and Kunming relationship is an inspiration driving more cities to become sister cities, and to believe in the ability of sub-national organizations to make impacts on the entire human society.