- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CODY, Wyo. (AP) - No livestock made the trip, but Paul Brock’s roping in China was a hit with the locals who seemed fascinated and bemused each time he twirled a rope.

“It was well-received,” he said. “But they didn’t really understand the team roping concept.”

One loop at a time.

Center executive director/CEO Bruce Eldredge, and an eight-person Cody contingent, spent about two weeks in China in November connecting with government and museum officials, exploring future cultural exchanges.

“This trip was important for us,” Eldredge said. “China is an opening market.”

Center officials were able to piggyback their visit with Ken Behring, the California millionaire philanthropist who for years has been developing museum programs in China.

Chinese officials bestowed a National Friendship Award on Behring during the visit and Center of the West officials attended the unveiling of a 350-specimen African display at the Shandong Provincial Museum that was established courtesy of Behring.

En route they visited Behring’s Blackhawk Museum in Danville, Calif. Behring and his team recently purchased the Cody collections of Jerry Fick as a cornerstone of a new Old West exhibit. Center officials facilitated that move and attended the opening.

The crux of the recent trip to China, arranged by Behring and facilitated by his private jet, was to bring Buffalo Bill, the Center, and the Old West to China.

“We know Buffalo Bill has good recognition in Europe,” Eldredge said.

It turns out the Chinese have a stronger affinity for the Old West than most Americans understand. Part of that link stems from the 1950s spate of television Westerns which have long aired in China, Eldredge said.

He said there’s also a rodeo circuit in China.

Eldredge, accompanied by his wife Jan, led the contingent, and was joined by Brock, director of operations, Bruce Sauers, director of revenue, Gretchen Henrich, director of education and interpretation, Beverly Perkins, chief conservator and director of museum services, John Rumm, director of the curatorial division, Rebecca West, associate curator of the Plains Indians Museum and trustee Naoma Tate.

While Chinese hosts expressed their desire to learn more about the Old West, the Cody visitors sought to soak up Chinese culture, though they also marveled at such things as a gigantic KFC restaurant in Beijing and its juxtaposition with more exotic fare at official dinners.

As China has transitioned from a communist, agrarian society to one that today embraces many elements of capitalism, the middle class has expanded and families that only a generation ago traveled by bicycle now own automobiles and aspire to foreign travel.

One of the places many Chinese citizens want to visit is Yellowstone Park.

“They may not know where Cody, Wyoming, is on a map, but Yellowstone is a good starting point,” Eldredge said. “China is going to be a huge tourism player in our area.”

One portion of a Yellowstone visitor study in 2011 sought to pinpoint the origin of park tourists.

The study indicated 12 percent of all visitors are of international origin. At that time there were visitors from 30 countries outside the U.S., with Canada leading the way.

China ranked sixth in the number of foreign visitors, behind the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands. China represented 7 percent of foreign visitors and 1 percent of all visitors.

Eldredge and Center staffers visited five museums. They showed exhibit material in Xiamen, left behind 30,000 brochures in Chinese, and were astonished by grand plans to open huge museums that include futuristic technology.

A natural history museum due to open in late 2015 will be 1 million square feet - three times the total size of the Center of the West.

“It will be the world’s greatest natural history museum,” Eldredge predicts.

He developed that thought after seeing some of the animatronic, life-sized dinosaurs being readied for display.

The Center of the West was well-represented at China’s national gathering of museum officials, Sauers, said.

“We got to show the American West to 20 percent of the world’s population,” Sauers said.

Compared to the U.S., China is far behind in the souvenir business, Sauers said. The Cody contingent saw few things to buy to take home that related to the museums.

Gift shop development might be one area in which suggestions can be made to Chinese museum counterparts, Sauers said.

Eldredge hopes the ties between the Center and Chinese museums expand through tourism, consulting and professional exchanges.

Eldredge and Sauers generally dressed in cowboy hats and bolo ties and Sauers said of average citizens, “They loved cowboys. We had our picture taken 500 times.”

Brock may have topped that, but he was too busy giving roping demonstrations on practice dummies to count.

“It really was a hit with people from age 4 to 80,” he said.

One attempt at a cross-cultural joke flopped. Brock placed his cowboy hat on the head of a man in the crowd. But the fellow thought the hat was a gift and tried to keep it.

“We had to promise him another hat,” Brock added.

Fortunately, Center reps brought Stetson-Resitol hats as gifts and an international incident was averted.

During his lifetime, Buffalo Bill Cody took his Wild West exhibition to as much of Europe as he could.

Eldredge, who thinks of Buffalo Bill as a man of great foresight and vision, was asked what Buffalo Bill would have thought of the venture.

“Buffalo Bill would probably say, ‘We’ve got to get our show to China,’” Eldredge said

___

Information from: The Cody Enterprise, http://www.codyenterprise.com

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