On this day in 1972 President Richard Milhous Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon arrived in China. This would have been unthinkable several years earlier. Nixon made his career on being an anti-communist and here he is visiting Red China? Only Nixon could have done this. On July 15th, 1971 it was announced in the United States and in China that Nixon was going to visit China. Nixon would spend a lot of time preparing for his trip-spending 40 hours with his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. The Nixon’s would spend a week in China. 1972 was a presidential election year in China and Nixon pulled out two biggies- the trip to China-he would be the first president to visit the People’s Republic of China and a trip to the Soviet Union.
Foreign Affairs was Dick Nixon’s bag and he was in his element. When he got off the plane in Beijing he was greeted by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and made a point to shake his hand. Back in 1954 then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had refused to shake hands with Zhou Enlai.
During the week President Nixon and his advisers met with the Chinese officials, including Nixon meeting with Chairman Mao.First Lady Pat Nixon visited schools, factories and hospitals in Beijing. The Nixon’s visited the Great Wall of China. It was a week that changed the world. China was opened to the world and there was a significant shift in the Cold War- China moving more towards the United States against the Soviet Union.
“Nixon Goes to China” is now a metaphor used when a politician does something that is uncharacteristic or unexpected. I don’t know if a president could out do-Nixon going to China though.