Richard Nixon's visit to China in February 1972 changed the course of history — reshaping the global balance of power and opening the door to the establishment of relations between the People's Republic and the United States.
It was also a milestone in the history of journalism. Since the Communist revolution of 1949, a suspicious regime in Beijing had barred virtually all U.S. reporters from China. For the Nixon trip, however, the Chinese agreed to accept nearly 100 journalists, and to allow the most dramatic events — Nixon's arrival in Beijing, Zhou Enlai's welcoming banquet, visits to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City — to be televised live.
The coverage was arguably as important as the details of the diplomacy. It profoundly transformed American and international perceptions of a long-isolated China, generated the public support Nixon needed to change U.S. policy, and laid the groundwork for Beijing's gradual move to open China to greater international media coverage.
While the outlines of the Nixon trip are familiar, the behind-the-scenes story of how that momentous event was covered is much less well-known. Now, the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California has produced a new documentary film, Assignment: China – The Week That Changed the World. The film contains remarkable and previously unreleased footage of the Nixon visit, interviews with Chinese officials, people who worked for Nixon, as well as many of the journalistic luminaries who accompanied the president. These include Dan Rather and Bernard Kalb of CBS, Ted Koppel and Tom Jarriel of ABC, Barbara Walters of NBC, Max Frankel of the New York Times, Stanley Karnow of the Washington Post, and many others.
Reported and narrated by U.S.-China Institute Senior Fellow Mike Chinoy, formerly CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent and Beijing Bureau Chief, and edited by USCI Multimedia Editor Craig Stubing, the film offers a fascinating and previously untold perspective on one of the most important historical moments of the 20th century.
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The documentary was screened in Washington, DC at the U.S. Institute for Peace on January 17 and at the New York headquarters of the Asia Society on January 31. It will also be shown in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong in February.
To see our Assignment: China "Opening Up" segment, on the first American reporters to be based in Beijing following the re-establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1979, please go to http://china.usc.edu/assignmentchina. It and a Chinese subtitled version are also available at our YouTube channel. To see our conference on the logistics associated with the Nixon trip, please go to http://china.usc.edu/ShowArticle.aspx?articleID=2283.
Additional USC U.S.-China Institute resources:
Getting to Beijing: Henry Kissinger’s Secret 1971 Trip
The Week that Changed the World: The Inside Story of Richard Nixon’s 1972 Journey to China
Nixon announces trip, 1971
Mao and Nixon Meet, 1972
Shanghai Banquet Toasts, 1972
Shanghai Communiqué, 1972
Nixon, Upon Return, 1972