Tag Archives: China

February 21st – Nixon visits China

Nixon meets Mao in Beijing, February 21st, 1972.

Nixon meets Mao in Beijing, February 21st, 1972.

On this day in 1972, President Richard Nixon visited the People’s Republic of China, marking the first time an American president had visited Communist China. Nixon’s visit marked the end of almost 25 years of separation between the United States and Mainland China (= Communist China/People’s Republic of China), and led to improved relations between the two countries. The president’s week-long trip to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou was described by Nixon himself as “the week that changed the world”.

Ever since the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the United States recognized the government in Taiwan, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek, as the sole government of China. American diplomatic recognition was extended only to Taiwan and not Mainland China. Ironically, Nixon, a politician who had made his career as being fervently anti-communist, recognized the need to improve relations with Mainland China during his presidency. Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, believed that opening to China would allow the Americans to gain further diplomatic leverage against the other communist great power, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. Additionally, improving relations with Communist China was thought by Kissinger to aid in a quicker resolution to the Vietnam War. From his first day in the Oval Office, Nixon worked towards open communication with Mainland China.

From February 21st to 28th, 1972, Nixon made his historical trip to China, visiting Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou.  Almost immediately after landing in Beijing on Air Force One, Nixon met with Chairman Mao for a one hour meeting. Upon being introduced to Nixon, Mao quipped, through a translator, to Nixon: “I believe our old friend Chiang Kai-Shek would not approve of this.” Allegedly, Mao told his doctor after his encounter with the American president that he found Nixon “forthright” and Kissinger “suspicious”. While not attending diplomatic meetings, Nixon got the chance to visit the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and the Ming Dynasty Tombs. As American television journalists (over 100) followed President Nixon throughout his trip to China, many Americans were able to see on TV these Chinese landmarks as well as a glimpse into life in Communist China.

Later on in the week, the United States and Mainland China issued the Shanghai Communiqué. In the Communiqué, the two governments pledged to normalize relations between their two countries, agreed that there was only ‘one China’ and that Taiwan was part of that China (the wording was such that the United States did not necessarily recognize that Taiwan was part of Communist China however), and that American military installations on Taiwan would be cut back. In Shanghai, Nixon said the following of what the Communiqué meant:

“This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said in that Communiqué is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge.”

Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 paved the way for increased Sino-American foreign relations. In 1979, the American government officially switched its diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing, ending official relations with Taiwan. Historians also credit Nixon’s visit for leading to increased economic ties that bind the two countries together today.

Here is a link to a film produced by the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library documenting President Nixon’s historic trip to China. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cfsI4ZjTbU

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December 20th – Portugal returns Macau back to China

The Macau handover ceremony from Portugal to China, December 20th, 1999.

The Macau handover ceremony from Portugal to China, December 20th, 1999.

On this day in 1999, Portugal returned Macau back to the People’s Republic of China, ending 442 years of formal Portuguese rule over that colony (1557 – 1999). Macau was the last and last European colony on the Asian continent.

In the mid-16th century, during Portugal’s golden age of empire and commerce, Portugal sought a port to conduct trade in Asia and China. With the permission of the Ming Dynasty government officials, Portugal established a trading base on the southeastern coast of China in 1557 on Macau, near the city of Canton (known today as Guangzhou), paying an annual rental fee of 20 kilograms of silver. Though the Portuguese were paying rent on Macau, at this point in time Portugal did not hold sovereignty over Macau, as the territory had not been officially handed over to Portugal, but rather, rented. It was not until 1887 that the Chinese and Portuguese governments signed the “Sino-Portuguese Treaty of Amity and Commerce”, which gave Portugal the right to occupy Portugal in perpetuity.

After the downfall of the Estado Novo and Antonio Salazar’s fascist government in 1974, Portugal proceeded to relinquish its overseas possessions, including Macau. In 1987, an agreement was signed between the Chinese and Portuguese governments to return Macau back to China. Similar to the agreement in 1984 concerning the British handover of Hong Kong back to China, Macau was to be handed over to China on December 20th, 1999 as a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR for short).

As an SAR, Macau is permitted to retain its institutions and system of governance that it had under Portuguese rule for fifty years after the handover (from 1999 to 2049). As a consequence, tremendous differences exist between Macau and China today. Portuguese remains an official language of Macau, has its own parliamentary system (democracy exists in Macau), a legal system based upon Portuguese law, and its own currency (the Macanese pataca). China retains sovereignty over Macau however, as China is in charge of Macau’s foreign affairs and its defense. Today, Macau is often known as the “Las Vegas of the Far East”, with its many casinos attracting visitors from nearby Hong Kong, Mainland China, and other parts of Asia.


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December 2nd – Puyi, the last Emperor of China, ascends the throne

Poster for the biopic The Last Emperor (1987), a movie chronicling the life of Puyi

Poster for the biopic The Last Emperor (1987), a movie chronicling the life of Puyi, China’s final ruling monarch

On this day in 1908, China’s last Emperor, Puyi, ascended the throne. Only two years old when he became the Emperor of China, Puyi’s reign from 1908 to 1912 marked the end of imperial China, which lasted for over 2000 years.

Given the age of Puyi upon his ascension to the throne, Puyi’s father, Prince Chun, ruled over China as regent. A regent is one who “caretakes” for a government in place of an individual who is not capable of doing so at the time. This regency was to be short lived however. As an emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Puyi was Manchu in origin, not Han Chinese as the majority of his subjects were. This racial difference between the ruling Manchu class and the subject Han Chinese people was a source of tremendous tension in the Empire, as the Chinese resented being ruled by foreigners. As well, the Chinese Empire had been humiliated by the Western powers and Japan throughout the past century, particularly in the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901. The monetary reparations and territorial concessions made to these foreign powers highlighted the weakness of the Qing Dynasty and the failure of the Chinese Empire to adopt Westernizing reforms aggravated the situation.

In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution broke out in China, resulting in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, and in its place, the establishment of the Republic of China. Despite the formation of the Republic, for a little more than a decade, Puyi was granted the right to retain his imperial title, reside in the Forbidden City and receive a stipend from the government. This all ended in 1924, when, following a failed coup and restoration of the Emperor, Puyi was banished from the Forbidden City and became a regular citizen of China. No one was to ever live in the Forbidden City again, which had served as the imperial residence of Chinese emperors for almost 500 years.

Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (the northeastern part of modern China) in 1931, Puyi was installed as the emperor of a new Japanese puppet state, Manchukuo. During his time as a private citizen, Puyi harboured many pro-Japanese feelings, feeling resentment towards the Chinese republic for the end of the Qing Dynasty and prejudice towards the Manchu. While recognized as the ruler of Manchukuo, Puyi exercised little authority, with most decisions concerning Manchukuo and its military and economy made by the Japanese in Tokyo. Few states in the world recognized the independence of Puyi’s country, mostly Japan and her allies (e.g. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy). While Puyi did certainly come back to the throne, he was but an emperor-in-name only.

In 1945 with the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, Puyi was caught by the Soviets trying to flee to Japan. He was then repatriated to the Communist Chinese government, where he was sent to a re-education camp to commit to the communist ideology. Puyi would live the remainder of his life in Beijing as a citizen of the People’s Republic. Miraculously, Puyi went largely unscathed by the Cultural Revolution that passed through China, which did denounce all aspects of the country’s imperial pass. Puyi passed away in 1967, shortly after the Cultural Revolution ended. After negotiations between his family and the government, was buried near the Western Qing Tombs – the site where previous Qing Emperors that came before him were buried.

Puyi’s life has become popularized in the 1987 biopic, The Last Emperor (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093389/), winner of nine Academy Awards that year (including Best Picture and Best Director). Almost three hours long, The Last Emperor chronicles Puyi’s life starting with his ascent to the imperial throne, his time under Japanese manipulation, and ending with his life in Communist China. Interestingly, this movie was the first Western feature film made in China with the Chinese government’s full cooperation since 1949 (when China turned Red). It was also the first feature film permitted by the Chinese government to film in the Forbidden Palace, which was made an UNESCO World Heritage Site on the same year that the The Last Emperor premiered.

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