Seize the hour: when Nixon met Mao

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In February 1972, Nixon amazed the world with a trip to China. He was the first US President to go there in fact officially the first American since the Communist takeover. It was like a visit to the far side of the moon, but also a brilliant stroke of policy. With China on side Nixon could get out of Vietnam; US technology could help Mao recover from his disastrous Cultural Revolution; most of all, both needed a buttress against Soviet Russia in aggressive mood. Yet the visit set a tone that still lingers. Did the Chinese see Nixon, coming to them, as a supplicant, and has the US been at a disadvantage ever since? Will the two countries cooperate, or will China challenge American dominance? Not just a great historical event, the visit is a great story too, filled with extraordinary people: Nixon himself, red-baiter, crook and shrewd statesman; Mao, frail, erratic, ruthless; the twin machiavellis Chou En-lai and Henry Kissinger; brittle Pat Nixon with her designer coat of 'prostitute's red'; and Mao's wife Jiang Qing, a small-time Shanghai actress now scourge of Chinese civilization. The clash of cultures was almost deafening too: China ancient and contemptuous, with nothing to learn from barbarians beyond the Middle Kingdom, the USA so different but also in its own eyes exceptional - the beacon for the world.

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Setting Out

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