"This book looks at one of the transformative moments of the twentieth century: 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 today's complex relationship between the countries. That monumental meeting--during what Nixon called "the week that changed the world"--could have been brought about only by powerful leaders: Nixon, a great strategist and a flawed human being, and Mao, willful and ruthless; assisted by two brilliant and complex statesmen, Henry Kissinger and Chou En-lai. And behind them lay the complex history of 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.--From publisher description."--From source other than the Library of Congress
The impact of Nixon in China was nothing like that of the Versailles Treaty which really did change the world and we are still feeling the repercussions. In the end, neither China nor the USA got what they primarily sought out of the first meeting: complete US withdrawal from Taiwan, and Chinese assistance in bringing the war in Vietnam to a close. The rapprochment represented by Nixon's visit to China, after twenty years of distrust and distance, owed itself partly to larger geopolitical considerations involving relations with the Soviet Union and the desire of each country to rethink global policy and strategies. There were also individual or domestic considerations: Nixon prided himself as a global statesman and was attracted by the bold and unexpected move (Kissinger was originally dubious) while he also saw that the profile it would be useful for his re-election; Mao was at the tail end of the Great Cultural Revolution that had turned China upside down and was re-thinking China's role in the world. But MacMillan also gives credit to the principals involved:
"It is true that Nixon and Kissinger were able to take advantage of a powerful current hat was already flowing in favour of a Sino-American relationship, but without their skilful and, yes, secretive handling of the opening, it might well not have happened."
Secrecy was an obsession of both Nixon and Kissinger with their secret channels of communication with the Chinese, secret meetings and visits, all over weeks and months and all kept secret from the State Department and other branches of the US government. In fact, Rogers, the Secretary of State comes off as a bumbler, certainly not respected, indeed barely tolerated by either Nixon or Kissinger, and continually slighted by being excluded from the key meetings or from any participation in drafting the communique.
MacMillan describes the negotiation of the communique as proceeding by "a combination of clear statements, hints, and suggestions". Both Kissinger and Chou En-Lai were adept at this and they spent countless hours together drafting the document. At one point, discussing Taiwan, Kissinger said, "The Prime Minister seeks clarity and I am trying to achieve ambiguity", but this could equally have been flipped around on other issues.
The misreadings by Nixon and Kissinger are interesting. For instance, their assumption "in spite of much evidence to the contrary, that the Communist world was organized like an army or a successful corporation, with all low-ranking officer following orders from above." In fact, whenever the two were in conflict, positions and actions reflected the triumph of national interests rather than Communist internationalism in all cases. They could also not foresee, but to be fair who did in 1972, the immense potential of China. Kissinger maintained that "the maximum amount of bilateral trade between us, even if we make great efforts, is infinitesimal in terms of our total economy. And the exchanges, while they are important, will not change objective realities". MacMillian notes that Wal-Mart now imports about $18 billion per year from China, and is a larger trading partner than Canada, Australia or Russia, that almost 900,000 Americans now visit China every year, and many of China's new leaders hold degrees from US universities.
Throughout MacMillan gives a detailed account of the intricate planning for the trip to China (Haldeman's greatest triumph) and the sometimes bemusement of the Chinese, particularly with the emphasis on TV coverage, and the constant concern with the press although Nixon was often vicious in his characterizations of the media. Woven throughout descriptions of the planning and the visit itself, are capsule histories of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao's life, and relations between China and the USSR and China and the USA
Despite the vision he had in moving towards China, and the risks he took in doing so, Nixon himself does not otherwise come across very sympathetically. Kissinger describes him as, "lonely, tortured and insecure". Nixon's pettiness and vindictiveness show through in flashes even concerning Kissinger when the latter became a popular media-darling. Nixon was secretive and distrusting in the extreme. His own wife, Pat, once said to Kissinger who was extolling Nixon's virtues early in their relationship, "You haven't seen through him yet?". Given his foibles and his paranoia, one can't help but think if it hadn't been Watergate something else might well have brought Nixon down.
What is also surprising, and a little disturbing, is the positively fawning attitude that Nixon and Kissinger had towards Mao. In his memoirs, Nixon talks about Mao's "remarkable sense of humour" and how his mind was moving "like lightening". Mao was a man who "sees strategic concepts with great vision". Kissinger echoed this, describing Mao as a "colossus among men". (Mao did not return the compliment. He liked talking to Nixon because he preferred rightists (at least you know where they stand) to leftists, but he described Kissinger as "Just a funny little man. He is shuddering all over with nerves every time he comes to see me.") The fact remains, however, that this colossus, through his whims and grand visions such as The Third Front, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, was responsible for the deaths of millions of people and the dislocation and destruction of the lives of even more. How is that this is forgotten? Dealing with realities is one thing, but were interlocutors so overwhelmed with the history and mystery of China and the absolute power of Mao that they abandoned all critical faculties? I understand the US journalist who was offended by the effusiveness of Nixon's toasts at the first grand banquet hosted by Chou En-lai, and who said it would have been the same thing if the Allied chief prosecutor had clinked glasses with Nazi war criminals at the end of the Nuremburg trials.
Nixon in China is definitely a recommended read.
This book was written by the author of Paris 1919 which I enjoyed very much. It is the story of Nixon's first visit with Mao. That was quite an event at the time and did mark America's acceptance in 1972 of the victory of the Chinese Communists in 1949. I remember before this happened I thought it was downright silly that the American government pretended that the Chinese Communists didn't exist. The author points out that prior to this trip all of the American government spokespeople would refer to Beijing as Peking in imitation of the government of Taiwan.
The author begins the book with the first meeting between Mao and Nixon. Mao had been very sick and there was medical equipment just outside his study in case he had a relapse. This is followed by a brief synopsis of the Chinese Revolution and the relations between America and China since 1949.
One event that is highlighted occurred in 1954. At the meeting of a conference in Geneva, John Foster Dulles, then American Secretary of State, walked past the outstretched hand of Zhou Enlai, the Premier of China, snubbing his proffered handshake. That led to some very prolonged handshakes between the parties at the 1972 meeting.
The author narrates the events leading up to the meeting from the American side in great detail. Unfortunately she had no access to Chinese sources to be able to tell their side of the events.
The story of the first banquet ending with numerous toasts using mao-tai, Chinese white lightning, is told with journalistic detail. The other event that I found significant was the negotiations on the communique that was announced at the end of the week long visit.
Each of the primary parties is then followed to the end of their career and their death. I had forgotten that long after resigning in disgrace Nixon appeared once again on the cover of Time magazine.
The style of the book is "popular history" somewhat akin to Barbara Tuchman. Although in my opinion not as good as Tuchman. It is a well written narrative with interesting details that I found enjoyable. I recommend it for anyone with an interest in this event.
If you're looking for a book that will give you all of the above, you've found it. It's quite readable. The only dry parts are the biographical information about the various government ministry folks from both countries, but even those are sometimes intriguing.
I read this book because I wanted to know more about China, and particularly Mao. This book gives excellent insights into what can be known of The Chairman. I enjoyed the author's attention to detail, often quoting from memoirs, collected letters, Nixon's secret tapes, etc. A fascinating look at diplomacy.