Looking Back On Nixon's Trip To China

Forty years ago Tuesday, President Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China. Renee Montagne looks back on that day in 1972.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


It was 40 years ago today that President Richard Nixon made history and surprised the world. He became the first sitting American president to visit China.


ANNOUNCER: On hand to greet him in Peking were Premier Chou Enlai, other officials ,and a 500-man military guard, but no large crowds of onlookers. The president and Henry Kissinger were whisked away to a one hour meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Nixon's trip came at the peak of Cold War tensions between East and West. By 1972, the U.S. and China had gone nearly a quarter of a century with almost no official contact – not since 1948, when the communists take over of mainland China.

At a state banquet with Prime Minister Chou Enlai, Mr. Nixon predicted a transformational outcome.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Mr. Prime Minister, I wish to thank you for your very gracious and eloquent remarks. What we do here can change the world.

MONTAGNE: Relations between the two nations, at first, were mostly symbolic - pandas loaned to American zoos, ping pong tournaments, that sort of thing. But 40 years later, trade between the two countries has hit almost a half a trillion dollars a year. It's now predicted that four years from now, China's economy will be bigger than the U.S.'s. So the world does, indeed, seem to have changed.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.