In "the week that changed the world," Richard Nixon became
the first sitting U.S. president to visit China. It was an extraordinary
event that only an ardently anti-Communist American president could have
Mao Zedong was in poor health, but still powerful and still suspicious
of American intentions. Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping thought differently,
however, and began to place economic progress above the Maoist goals of
permanent revolution. The Chinese were also concerned about the growth
of Soviet power. Nixon and Zhou signed the Shanghai Communique, a milestone
document that described a new state of relations between the two countries.
China began to modernize the economy by dismantling communes and offering
profit incentives to peasants, farmers, and factory workers. More flexibility
and decision-making authority was granted to them as well. It was a difficult
change, but by the end of the decade Deng and modernization were firmly
At the same time, the United States faced a series of challenges, both at home and abroad. American society had begun to accept tens of thousands of Asian immigrants. Some were Chinese nationals from Taiwan; a few were mainland Chinese seeking refuge from persecution; others were Vietnamese fleeing the Communist takeover of their country. The United States also faced the challenge of ending the Vietnam War. The fall of Saigon in 1975 brought an end to that very tragic chapter in American history.
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on loan, courtesy of:
Painted fan - one of the gifts received from the 1972 trip
--Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, Yorba Linda, California
Photographs - Nixon's 1972 trip to China
Memo - to Nixon from Kissinger regarding his meeting with Chairman Mao in 1973
--Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, College Park, Maryland
Booklet - "Journey to the New China" April-May 1972
--Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa
Tourist Materials - U.S. Liason Office Peking tourist information, post cards, and notepad, from Ford's trip to China in 1973.
--Gerald Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan
The first visit to China by a sitting United States president was
a momentous occasion. At odds for more than a century, "the Eagle"
and "the Dragon" sought to find common ground. Millions of Americans
were glued to their TV sets, getting their first glimpse of life behind
the "Bamboo Curtain." Although the visit was extraordinary,
many difficult issues remained.
One of the first public hints of improved U.S.-China relations came in
1971, when the American table tennis team accepted an invitation to visit
China, ushering in an era of "Ping-Pong diplomacy." They were
the first Americans allowed into China since the Communist takeover in
"The week that changed the world," as President Nixon called
his historic 1972 visit, made for an eight-day television extravaganza,
and a public relations coup for hosts and guests alike. American television
audiences tuned in to a spectacular parade of Chinese images, the first
they had seen in more than twenty years. Throughout the week, when not
meeting with Chinese officials, the Nixons attended banquets, cultural
and athletic performances, and toured such cultural treasures as the Forbidden
City, the Ming Tombs, and the Great Wall of China. American reporters,
shut out of the substance of the official talks, also took to the tourist
On February 27, 1972, the United States and China issued a joint communiqué that pledged both countries to work for normalization of relations, and to expand people-to-people contacts and trade opportunities. Formal recognition, however, was still to come.
Newspaper clipping (copy) - Saigon Post 4-7-75
with the headlines, "North Vietnam Can Be Defeated." Also included
is an article about the death of Chiang Kai-shek.
Chaos reigned as the United States withdrew from Saigon, the capital
of South Vietnam. It had been the most expensive war in U.S. history and
the Vietnam War had deeply divided the American people. Perhaps the United
States had been taught an important lesson about its role in Asia.
On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to North Vietnamese tanks. With American
fighter planes flying cover and marines standing guard on the ground,
Americans fled the city by helicopter after fighting off throngs of Vietnamese
who tried to go along. The final stage of the evacuation stretched over
19 hours, and brought to an end U.S. involvement in Vietnam that had cost
more than 50,000 lives and $150 billion dollars.
The beginning of the end came when the South Vietnamese Army withdrew
from the Central Highland, leaving Saigon open to invasion from the North
Vietnamese. The United States refused to provide additional aid. By the
middle of April, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was transporting
Vietnamese collaborators out of the country.
Each new day brought more chaos. On April 21, the South Vietnamese president
resigned and fled. Saigon residents panicked, storming the U.S. embassy
in search of refuge. By April 29, U.S. helicopters were flying non-stop
runs, ferrying South Vietnamese friends to ships 20 miles out to sea.
Even though thousands were saved, tens of thousands were left behind.
On April 30, just as the last U.S. helicopter was lifting off, the North Vietnamese Army swept into Saigon. Within a month, the name of old capital was changed to Ho Chi Minh City and the process of political re-education had begun. The Vietnam War was over at last.
Artifacts on loan, courtesy of:
As Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong passed from the scene, China struggled
to redefine itself. The wiley pragmatist, Deng Xiaoping, finally emerged
as the leader of a China seeking to modernize its economy and infrastructure.
As Maoist slogans and red banners faded into history, Deng was firmly
The most dramatic change in China after the Nixon visit was the rehabilitation
of Deng Xiaoping, who became Vice Premier in 1973. With Zhou Enlai, Deng
outlined the "Four Modernizations" for the four sectors of agriculture,
industry, national defense, and science and technology. Flexibility and
authority was granted to peasants, factory workers and scientists, replacing
rigid Communist centralization.
After Zhou died in January 1976, however, hardline radicals maneuvered
Deng from leadership and replaced him with a political unknown, Hua Guofeng.
The political system had polarized into increasingly bitter and irreconcilable
factions, still manipulated by the ailing Mao Zedong. Then his death in
September 1976 brought to power Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and her three
principal associates - nicknamed by Mao as the "Gang of Four."
Three weeks later, the Four were arrested and blamed for all the excesses
of the Cultural Revolution. Freedom of expression briefly flowered on
"The Democracy Wall" through posters and artwork that criticized
the Party. This was soon repressed, however, but the "national uniforms"
of blue cotton were finally discarded. In this political atmosphere, Hua
Guofeng struggled against moderates and the rise, once again, of Deng
By 1978, Hua called for strict adherence to Mao's ideology, while Deng
re-proposed the Four Modernizations. Deng was able to place key allies
in positions of power, and by 1979, Deng prepared to formalize relations
with the United States.
are currently exploring "The
Political Evolution of China"