Neither Nixon, nor China, have a particularly Christmassy sound.
Yet this new book by Margaret MacMillan is a wonderful Christmas
present. Written in the clear,crisp style of the best-selling author of
Paris l9l9, it gives an enthralling picture of the week in February,
l972, when U.S. President Nixon went to China and met its leaders.
The very fact of the visit changed diplomatic relations in all
directions – especially with the Soviet Union. MacMillan builds on this
one week to give background history of China which is very relevant to
events of today.
MacMillan is a Canadian who did her graduate work at Oxford, and
returned to Canada to teach (Chinese history among other things ) at
Ryerson, Toronto. She says history is story-telling and “is
very often about how a fascinating event changes people..it should be
entertaining.” MacMillan herself went on to become Provost of Trinity
College and professor of history at the University of Toronto. In 2007,
she will become the Warden of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University.
We are fortunate that she has been able to get Nixon in China
published in the midst of such a busy academic career. It is
interesting that she makes Nixon as sympathetic as she does. She finds
him a lonely, tortured man with a longing to “dare greatly” on the world
stage combined with self-doubt and bombast which led to the notorious
Watergate lying and cheating. His meeting with Chairman Mao is quite
memorable, as described in her book.
The visit is described intimately. The Chinese were fascinated by
the preparations for the American press. They had never seen a Xerox
copier and had to be sure, for example,that there would be phone lines
at the Great Wall. Two chartered planes carried the reporters, camera
crews and support staff, just ahead of Nixon.
And then MacMillan sums up the week that changed the world -how it
affected events in the Soviet Union, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea, as well as
the two main countries, the U.S. and China. As we try to keep our
footing in our own fast-changing world, this is a book that helps you
get your bearings.
Review by Anne McDougall