With the publication of her landmark bestseller Paris 1919, Margaret MacMillan was praised as "a superb writer who can bring history to life" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). Now she brings her extraordinary gifts to one of the most important subjects today-the relationship between the United States and China-and one of the most significant moments in modern history. In February 1972, Richard Nixon, the first American president ever to visit China, and Mao Tse-tung, the enigmatic Communist dictator, met for an hour in Beijing. Their meeting changed the course of history and ultimately laid the groundwork for the complex relationship between China and the United States that we see today.
That monumental meeting in 1972-during what Nixon called "the week that changed the world"-could have been brought about only by powerful leaders: Nixon himself, a great strategist and a flawed human being, and Mao, willful and ruthless. They were assisted by two brilliant and complex statesmen, Henry Kissinger and Chou En-lai. Surrounding them were fascinating people with unusual roles to play, including the enormously disciplined and unhappy Pat Nixon and a small-time Shanghai actress turned monstrous empress, Jiang Qing. And behind all of them lay the complex history of two countries, two great and equally confident civilizations: China, ancient and contemptuous yet fearful of barbarians beyond the Middle Kingdom, and the United States, forward-looking and confident, seeing itself as the beacon for the world.
Nixon thought China could help him get out of Vietnam. Mao needed American technology and expertise to repair the damage of the Cultural Revolution. Both men wanted an ally against an aggressive Soviet Union. Did they get what they wanted? Did Mao betray his own revolutionary ideals? How did the people of China react to this apparent change in attitude toward the imperialist Americans? Did Nixon make a mistake in coming to China as a supplicant? And what has been the impact of the visit on the United States ever since?
Weaving together fascinating anecdotes and insights, an understanding of Chinese and American history, and the momentous events of an extraordinary time, this brilliantly written book looks at one of the transformative moments of the twentieth century and casts new light on a key relationship for the world of the twenty-first century.
Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to Beijing to open relations with Communist China was both a Cold War milestone and compelling political theater. Diplomatic historian MacMillan, author of the acclaimed Paris 1919, gives a lively account of the pomp and protocol surrounding the trip: the awkward banquets, the toasts to peace and friendship (punctuated by occasional anti-imperialist lectures), the Great Wall pilgrimages, the proletarian operas (Nixon attended The Red Detachment of Women, in which peasants and revolutionaries battle landlords). MacMillan's even better on the behind-the-scenes negotiations, as the two sides wrangle over every word of the climactic Shanghai communiqu?. More than Nixon and the cloistered Mao, the central figures are Henry Kissinger and Chinese premier Chou En-Lai, tasked with finding common ground and finessing differences with subtle verbiage and winks and nods. The author fills in the background with colorful, incisive biographical sketches and a lucid history of Sino-American relations. The encounter seems to have had little impact on the issues discussed during the trip--the Vietnam war, the fate of Taiwan, relations with the Soviets. Still, MacMillan argues, it opened the door to today's necessary relationship between the two Pacific powers, and she turns a potentially dry diplomatic story into a fascinating study in high-wire diplomacy, full of intrigue and drama. Photos. (Feb. 20) Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 12, 2007
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Excerpt from Nixon and Mao by Margaret MacMillan
On Thursday, February 17, 1972, President and Mrs. Nixon walked out to the south lawn of the White House, where a helicopter waited for them. A small crowd, among them Vice President Spiro Agnew and his wife, Republican and Democratic congressmen, and the two Nixon daughters, Tricia and Julie, saw them off as they started the first leg of their long trip to China. The brief ceremony was carried live on American radio and television. Nixon spoke briefly. He was making, he said, "a journey for peace," but, he added, he was under no illusions that "twenty years of hostility between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America are going to be swept away by one week of talks that we will have there." Nevertheless, he was going in an optimistic spirit: "If there is a postscript that I hope might be written with regard to this trip, it would be the words on the plaque which was left on the moon by our first astronauts when they landed there: 'We came in peace for all mankind.' " It was classic Nixon, that mixture of pragmatism and grandiloquence.
Inside the waiting plane at Andrews Air Force Base, the rest of Nixon's party, which included his secretary of state, William Rogers, and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, watched the ceremonies on television. Winston Lord, a young aide to Kissinger, joked nervously that if the plane blew up, they would all see themselves going sky high. As Nixon was boarding the plane, one of the waiting reporters handed him an atlas of China that had the seal of the CIA on its cover. "Do you think they'll let me in with this?" asked the president, sharing a rare joke with the press as he climbed aboard Air Force One.
He, the man who had made his name as a dogged and vociferous anti- Communist, was reversing two decades of American policy by traveling to Beijing, into the very heart of Chinese Communism. As the plane climbed into the air, Nixon felt like an explorer: "We were embarking," he said in his memoirs, "upon a voyage of philosophical discovery as uncertain, and in some respects as perilous, as the voyages of geographical discovery of a much earlier time period."
He was taking a considerable gamble: that conservatives at home would not attack him and that liberals would not be disappointed in the results of his trip. He was pleased by the many fervent messages he had received wishing him well--but also concerned. "I told Henry that I thought it really was a question of the American people being hopelessly and almost na?vely for peace, even at any price," he recalled. Kissinger was, as always, reassuring. Americans were excited by the boldness of Nixon's move.
Nixon also did not know whether the Chinese themselves would overcome their decades of hostility to the United States and make his visit a success. Although every detail of his trip had been negotiated with the Chinese, Nixon did not know, when he clambered aboard his plane, whether he would have a meeting with Chairman Mao Tse-tung, who, from his seclusion in Beijing, still controlled China. If Nixon came back to the United States without having met Mao, his trip would be regarded as a failure and, worse, a humiliation for the United States.
After the trip was over, the Nixon people always maintained that they'd felt quite confident about a meeting. "Well, we knew in our gut," said Winston Lord, "that Mao would meet Nixon." The Americans had no firm promise, though, only vague assurances from the Chinese. "I know," Lord remembered, "that we made unilateral statements that Nixon would, of course, be seeing Mao. We said that we would like to know when this would be, but we knew that this was going to happen. It would have been unthinkable if it didn't."