the 1970s
Rapprochement and the Decline of
China’s World Revolution

America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam united the
entire socialist world and the nonaligned Third World against the
United States. . . . But that entire structure of political alignments
was upset by President Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic of China
in February 1972. . . . The international posture of China was radically
changing, and no one . . . knew what to think. The press photographs
showing Mao Tse- Tung and Richard Nixon shaking hands testified
to a meeting that no revolutionary would have ever imagined.
kathleen cleaver
The whole Chinese Revolution may go down to defeat for a while. We
may lose everything. But never mind. If we are defeated here, you in Africa
will learn from our mistakes, and you will develop your own Mao Zedong,
and you will learn to do it better. And so in the end, we shall succeed.
zhou enlai
On the morning of February 21, 1972, President Richard Nixon and the first
lady, Pat Nixon, walked down the airstairs of Air Force One, where a Chinese
delegation, led by Premier Zhou Enlai, awaited them. Decades earlier Nixon
denounced the prc government, stating that if China seized Taiwan, “the next
frontier would be the coast of California.” In subsequent years he also rejected
the idea of U.S.-China rapprochement, asserting that recognizing China would
be “detrimental to the cause of freedom and peace.”1 But by 1972, this rhetoric
appeared hollow as the first couple journeyed from Guam to Shanghai before
finally arriving at Beijing Capital International Airport. There, Nixon’s anti-
communist cloak was replaced by the First Lady’s plush scarlet- colored over-
coat, an appendage that symbolically signaled the U.S. government’s push for
détente with Red China. The news cameras did not miss a beat. On televisions
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