U.S. President Richard Nixon meets Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong.

Photograph courtesy the National Archives

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    On February 21, 1972, President Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing, China, for a historic summit meeting with Chinese leaders. Nixon’s week-long visit was of such importance that “Nixon going to China” has become a metaphor for an unexpected, positive action by a politician. Nixon himself called the visit “the week that changed the world.”
     
    No incumbent American president had ever visited China, and the U.S. had not yet recognized the communist government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), established in 1949. Nixon himself was a staunch anti-communist and his visit to China was seemingly out-of-character. However, Nixon hoped that closer relations with China would change the dynamic of the Cold War, with China more closely allied with the U.S. than with the Soviet Union.
     
    Nixon’s summits with Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai paved the way for eventual American recognition of the PRC. The document that resulted from the summit, the Shanghai Communiqué, pledged to establish more normal diplomatic relations between the two superpowers. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Cold War Noun

    (1947-1991) conflict between the Soviet Union (and its allies) and the United States (and its allies). The two sides never confronted each other directly.

    communist Noun

    person or group of people who support communism, a type of economy where all property, including land, factories and companies, is held by the government.

    diplomatic relations Noun

    the formal ties between nations.

    dynamic Adjective

    always changing or in motion.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    Forbidden City Noun

    palace complex in Beijing, China, used by Chinese emperors.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    Great Wall of China Noun

    (3220 kilometers/2000 miles) barrier made of earth, brick, and stone built in Northern China between the 3rd century BCE and the 17th century CE.

    incumbent Noun

    person currently holding an office or position.

    journalist Noun

    person who reports and distributes news.

    metaphor Noun

    word or phrase used to represent something else, or an understanding of one concept in terms of another concept. 

    politician Noun

    person who serves as a representative of the citizens of a geographic area to the local, state, or national government.

    staunch Adjective

    firm, dependable, and loyal.

    summit Noun

    meeting or conference of top leaders.

    superpower Noun

    extremely powerful nation or country.