New Haven and Changsha, China have started to draft plans to become official sister cities, which would develop strong ties between the two towns.

On Oct. 17, Andrew Wolf, director of the New Haven Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism, traveled to Changsha to sign a letter of intent to establish a sister-city relationship. The Yale-China Association, a nonprofit that connects institutions in America and China, organized the trip, and the group’s executive director, David Youtz, served as an intermediary for New Haven and Changsha officials during negotiations. At the signing ceremony, Changsha presented an embroidered tapestry in exchange for a porcelain dove of peace from New Haven created by a local ceramist. The dove is mounted on a raw piece of Chinese wood with a plaque that reads “Saluting Friendship New Haven + Changsha, Oct. 17, 2016.”

The Yale-China Association has a long history in Hunan, the Chinese province of which Changsha is the capital. The organization helped establish a medical, nursing and public-health school in the province, in addition to Yali High School, which has been cited as a leading school in China according to Youtz.

Given Yale’s rich history in Changsha, Wolf and Youtz saw Changsha as the ideal Chinese city to become New Haven’s eighth sister city. The other seven are Taichung, Taiwan; Afula-Gilboa, Israel; Amalfi, Italy; Avignon, France; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Huế, Vietnam and León, Nicaragua.

“In addition to benefiting educationally and culturally from its eight sister-city relationships, New Haven’s diverse history and the contributions of people from these regions are celebrated,” said Shaundolyn Slaughter, president of New Haven Sister Cities. “Furthermore, our connections focus on the importance of building bridges across cultures to promote peace, prosperity and understanding through citizen diplomacy resulting in mutually beneficial relationships.”

Youtz said Changsha was immediately receptive to the idea of a sister-city relationship. Youtz initially reached out to a senior official at Xiangya Hospital and Medical School, institutions Yale helped establish in 1917 and 1913, respectively. The official, Ya Cao, previously served as vice mayor of Changsha and was able to direct Youtz to officials in the current mayor’s office within two weeks of his initial inquiry.

“Both sides from the beginning were very enthusiastic,” Youtz said.

The Foote School, a private school in New Haven, already has close links with Yali Middle School, located in Changsha. According to the Foote School’s website, a Yale guest teacher visits Foote each fall and participates in classes throughout the school. Additionally, students and faculty also visit the school in the fall, frequenting classes and staying in homes of Foote families. In exchange, ninth-grade students at Foote take a trip to China in March every year.

Wolf noted that the sister-city relationship will further the pre-existing educational and cultural exchanges between the two cities.

“We seek to support citizen-to-citizen, mayor-to-mayor diplomacy, so that includes educational exchanges,” Wolf said. “Every year Yale-China selects graduating seniors to participate in [Yale-China Association’s] intensive language program, to teach English as a second language. And already, I’ve gotten a call from a retailer in New Haven, and they would like to consider opening a franchise in Changsha to introduce what we do in New Haven.”

New Haven officials are working with galleries in Changsha to display local residents’ work, according to Wolf. The new relationship is also expected to further real-estate investment, manufacturing and other business ties between the two cities.

Wolf noted that, like New Haven, Changsha — located in Hunan province — is famous for its food. Youtz highlighted that because both New Haven and Changsha are harbor cities, the relationship could result in greater port-to-port business and importing opportunities.

“The Chinese tend to view these very seriously as a real way to open doors and then going and getting things done,” Youtz said. “And my feeling is, people in Changsha, people in New Haven are very practical.”

Changsha Mayor Hu Henghua is expected to visit New Haven in 2017. Since the relationship between the cities cannot be official until the two mayors are in the same place at the same time, Changsha and New Haven’s relationship will only be made official next year.

The Yale-China Association was founded in 1901.