Passport to Peking: A Very British Mission to Mao's China

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OUP Oxford, Oct 28, 2010 - History - 624 pages
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President Nixon's famous 1972 trip has gone down in history as the first great opening between the West and Communist China. However, eighteen years previously, former prime minister Clement Attlee had also been to China to shake Chairman Mao by the hand. In the second half of 1954, scores of European delegations set off for Beijing, in response to Prime Minister Chou En-lai's invitation to 'come and see' the New China and celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Communist victory. In this delightfully eclectic book, part comedy, part travelogue, and part cultural history, Patrick Wright uncovers the story of the four British delegations that made this journey. These delegations included an amazing range of people from the political, academic, artistic, and cultural worlds of the day: Clement Attlee and his former Health Minister, Nye Bevan; dapper and self-important philosopher A. J. Ayer; the brilliant young artist-reporter Paul Hogarth; poet and novelist Rex Warner (a former Marxist who had just married a Rothschild); and the infuriatingly self-obsessed Stanley Spencer who famously lectured Chou En-lai on the merits of his hometown of Cookham, but who emerges as the unlikely hero of the story. Using a host of previously unpublished letters and diaries, Patrick Wright reconstructs their journey via the USSR to the New China, capturing the impressions - both mistaken and genuinely insightful - of the delegates as they ventured behind both the iron and the bamboo curtains. Full of comic detail of the delegates and their interactions, it is also a study of China as it has loomed in the British mind: the primitive orient of early western philosophy, a land of backwardness that was used to contrast with the progressive dynamism of Victorian Britain, as well as the more recent allure of revolutionary transformation as it appeared in the minds of twentieth century Britons.

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And a very British history of the mission it is too - and to be honest its not immediately clear why Patrick Wright would go into such detail about the 3 British missions to China in the mid 50s ... Read full review


2Holding Out in the Legation Quarter
3Paul Hogarths Marxist Shudder
4The Battle of British Friendship
5The Charms of AntiAmericanism
6Barbara Castles Bevanite Sigh
7Chou EnLais Winning Smile
PART IIOne Good Elk and Dinner with the PolitburoMoscow
15The Flight of a Brown Phoenix Cedric Dover
PART IVListening to the OrioleChina
16Clement Attlees Break
The Undiplomatic Rapture of the Cultural Delegation
The Second Labour Delegation Grapples with the Facts
19Nuts about Pavlov? Resuming the Scientific Dialogue
PART VThe Artists ReckoningChina
20Revolution Comes to the Art Schools and Museums

8Flowers for Edith Summerskill
9Just Like Manchester a Hundred Years Ago
10The Tragic Thoughts of Chairman Smith
11Stanley Spencers Pyjama Cord and the Socialist Tree
PART IIIAnticipating ChinaMoscow to Ulan Bator
12Ghosts over Siberia Casson and Pulleyblank
13A Blue Jacket for Abraham Lincoln Paul Hogarth
14How China Came to Cookham Stanley Spencer
21Paul Hogarths Sky Full of Diamonds
22Stanley Spencers English Takeaway
AfterwordHoly China?
APPENDIXMembership of Three Delegations
Photographic Acknowledgements

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About the author (2010)

Patrick Wright is a writer and broadcaster with an interest in the cultural dimensions of modern life. He is the author of a number of highly acclaimed best-selling history books, including The Village that Died for England, Tank (described by Simon Schama as 'a tour de force'), and Iron Curtain, which John le Carre described as 'a work of wit, style and waggish erudition.' He has written for many magazines and newspapers, including the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Independent, and the Observer, and has made numerous documentaries on cultural themes for both BBC Radio 3 and 4. His television work includes The River, a four-part BBC2 series on the Thames. He is also a Professor at the Institute for Cultural Analysis at Nottingham Trent University, and a fellow of the London Consortium.

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