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'Only Nixon': His Trip to China Revisited and Restudied

'Only Nixon': His Trip to China Revisited and Restudied

by James C. Humes, Jarvis D. Ryals

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In 1998, Professor Humes and Doctor Ryals traveled with Edward Nixon, the brother of the President, to the People's Republic of China. While retracing Nixon's steps, they interviewed those Chinese Foreign Service experts who had planned the president's meetings with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai. These protégés of Chou En-lai ended their diplomatic


In 1998, Professor Humes and Doctor Ryals traveled with Edward Nixon, the brother of the President, to the People's Republic of China. While retracing Nixon's steps, they interviewed those Chinese Foreign Service experts who had planned the president's meetings with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai. These protégés of Chou En-lai ended their diplomatic careers as envoys in Anglophone nations such as the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia. During interviews with Humes, Ryals, and Edward Nixon, these experts shared their observations about the forces, such as the Gang of Four, who were plotting to prevent the Nixon Trip, as well as why, at the time, Mao was amendable to restoring ties with America despite the ongoing Cultural Revolution.

Editorial Reviews

Dr. Margaret MacMillan
James Humes and Jarvis Ryals have turned up interesting stories and insights from both the Chinese and American sides which deepen our understanding of President Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972.
Ambassador Ji Chaozhu
This is the first endeavor by Americans to understand the planning and organization for the historic Nixon visit from the Chinese viewpoint. "ONLY NIXON", is also interesting in that former Nixon speechwriter Humes offers insights of Nixon's evolution in thinking from being an apologist of Chiang Kai-shek to becoming a proponent of accommodation with the People's Republic.

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"Only Nixon"

His Trip to China Revisited and Restudied

By James C. Humes, Jarvis D. Ryals

University Press Of America, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 University Press of America, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7618-4739-7


A Nixon Returns to China in 1998

The late president's brother, Edward Nixon, made a journey to China in 1998. With him were the authors, Professor James C. Humes and Dr. Jarvis D. Ryals. Their purpose was to interview those in the People's Republic—the Chinese Foreign Service elite—who had helped lay the groundwork for President Nixon's historic visit in 1972. The three Americans were surprised by the enthusiastic reception by the Chinese diplomats.

China's respect for the late president's brother was not unexpected. Without the presence of Edward Nixon the invitation would not have been tendered. The trip was the idea of Dr. Jarvis D. Ryals, a Colorado neurologist. He had met Professor Humes when he was a visiting professor at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo [now Colorado State University at Pueblo], and who had recently published a book, Nixon's Ten Commandments of Statecraft (Scribner, 1997). The work had been triggered by the former president's leaving to that author, at his death, a card listing ten rules in diplomatic negotiations and strategy. That had prompted his editors to explore the book idea of the assessment of Nixon as a world leader by those who knew him best—both in America and abroad. To that end, the authors met and talked to former president Gerald Ford [Professor Humes had assisted Ford in the writing of his memoirs A Time to Heal, (Harper & Row, 1979)], former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, and Member of Parliament Winston Churchill II who gave his grandfather's assessment of his meetings with Nixon when the British Prime Minister met with the then Vice-President several times.

It was the suggestion of Dr. Ryals that they go to China to ascertain the views of those diplomats who had worked with President Nixon, Dr. Henry Kissinger and others in regard to the president's visit in February, 1972—particularly those who were protégés and assistants to Premier Chou En-lai. James Humes, and his wife Dianne Stuart Humes, had known the Nixon family for many years. Mrs. Humes, who had served abroad in the Foreign Service, had been recruited by Vice-President Nixon for his staff in 1958 from the Eisenhower White House. For Nixon she drafted greetings to conferences, messages for anniversaries of organizations, or letters to heads of state. Professor Humes, while a law student, also worked part time in the Nixon office on research. In the course of those years they would come to know, in addition to the Vice President and his wife, Mr. Nixon's mother, his uncle Ernest Nixon, and the brother Edward Nixon, as well as the Nixon daughters Tricia and Julie.

Later Humes would be, for almost two years, a White House speech writer for President Nixon. He then served in the U.S. Department of State as Director of Policy and Plans. In the same period his wife would again be a chief "message" writer in the Nixon White House.

Edward Nixon, a geologist by profession, had by 1998 already visited the People's Republic on 21 occasions. (Once on their 1998 visit, the Chinese host informed the group "Mr. Nixon probably knows more about Chinese rocks than any Chinese.") Edward Nixon is seventeen years younger than his presidential brother. In looks he is a 6'4" version of his famous sibling. Because he features the same ski-nose mouth and chin of the most recognizable American face in China, he would prompt the delighted cries of "Mr. Nee-ko-sahn, Mr. Nee-ko-sahn" from children in the three cities they visited. Edward idolized his older brother, his mentor who, among other things, paid for his tuition at Duke University. Edward Nixon, by nature shy and reticent, avoided the spotlight in his brother's years as Vice-President and President and was almost embarrassed by the attention lavished on him when we were in China in 1998.

President Nixon may be a controversial figure in American history, but in China he is revered. He is an icon for his bringing the two great nations together in his epic visit in 1972.

Thus his brother Edward would be the catalyst in securing an official invitation for the authors to have the opportunity to learn at first hand the reactions and opinions of key Chinese diplomats to President Nixon.

To that end, the authors went to Seattle, Washington in 1997, to enlist Edward Nixon to be the lead member for the trip. His exploratory letter that emanated from that visit, secured for the three of them a meeting at the People's Republic embassy in Washington D.C. At that time Professor Humes would arrange for the Chinese Ambassador to deliver a later speech to his Philadelphia club, The Union League, at a Foreign Policy Luncheon. At that luncheon there were further discussions about the proposed trip to the People's Republic.

The invitation came from Ambassador Jiang Chengzong, an Executive Council Member of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA) headquartered in Beijing. He had been a former Deputy Foreign Secretary and a close associate of Premier Chou En-lai. This delegation of four, that now included Mrs. Humes, left San Francisco for a flight to Beijing on September 20, 1998, arriving the next day. The trip would comprise 11 days. The cities in order of their visit would be Beijing, Hangzhou—the lake resort and favorite retreat of Chairman Mao Tse-tung—and Shanghai. They had VIP treatment, the same level of accommodation as the then former vice-president Dan Quayle, who was visiting at the same time. (Professor Humes, who had visited the People's Republic in 1985 to lecture to several Chinese universities on a tour arranged by the State Department, could note the difference in reception by their Chinese hosts in 1998. This time it was the 'red carpet' treatment.)

Their Chinese host, Ambassador Tang Longbin, an Executive Council Member of the CPIFA that was noted above, had organized the trip this way: In the mornings they would meet one or two of the Chinese diplomats who in 1971 had helped prepare and plan for the Nixon visit. Then in the afternoons, they would replicate the Nixon trip in 1972 by inspecting the same sites of historical interest that the presidential entourage had visited. Those stopping-off places would include, in Beijing for example, the presidential palace where President Nixon met Chairman Mao along with Chou En-lai for discussion, the Forbidden City, the home of the Emperor, as well as the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs some fifty miles outside the capital city.

In Hangzhou the sites for visiting were Chairman Mao's villa (where the Chinese Chairman would vacation to renew himself physically and mentally, and write his 'Mao's Sayings' and poetry there), the nearby lakes, and the site of a redwood tree planting in 1972 by President Nixon. (It was barely surviving by 1998.)

The four also visited in Shanghai the former home of Madame Sun-Yat-Sen, whose husband was the founder of the modern republic that ended the Chinese monarchy on October 10, 1910. (10-10 is a national holiday in both the People's Republic and Taiwan, where Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek retreated in order to continue his Nationalist government after his defeat in 1949 by the Red Army.) Incidentally, Madame Chiang Kai-shek was the younger sister of Madame Sun-Yat-Sen. They also would plant another American oak tree in the Shanghai Garden where Mrs. Nixon had planted an American seedling in 1972.

A 'photo-op' was arranged on each of these visits with elaborate ceremony. Edward Nixon would stand or sit where the president had and the president of the Institute, Ambassador Jiang Chengzong, would assume the role of Chairman Mao or Premier Chou En-lai. In Shanghai, Dianne Humes would play the part of Mrs. Nixon. Madame Sun-Yat-Sen's house is now an elementary school for gifted children, mostly the offspring of high ranking members of the Communist Party in Shanghai. (Curiously, the American these English-speaking children were most eager to learn details about was Michael Jordan, the basketball star. One student even wore a Michael Jordan sweat shirt.) The young pupils presented a flower arrangement to Mrs. Humes, as their predecessors had to Mrs. Nixon.

Sites like the Great Wall of China are must-see stops for any world traveler but as scholars interested in the Nixon trip, their trip to such sites yielded some revealing insights:

For example, the night before the Nixon entourage was scheduled to visit the Great Wall, five inches of snow fell making the two-lane blacktop road to the Wall impassable. (Nowadays it is a four-lane concrete highway.) No snow removal machines existed then in the People's Republic. The dire situation was reported to Premier Chou En-lai who mobilized 750,000 Chinese to take their household brooms and sweep through the night to remove the snow from the road all the way from Beijing to the Great Wall—the fifty mile distance was approximately 250,000 feet, so each person had only four inches of highway to sweep clean of snow!

Our daily guide during our visit was Ambassador Jiang Chengzong, who might be described as the Chinese version of the American political advance man in 1972. He was the one Chou En-lai dispatched to round up the snow sweepers. Jiang Chengzong was a round-faced, jovial, and enthusiastic host whose informal manner was enhanced by his open collar sport shirt and ever present grin.

Ambassador Tang Longbin had also organized the Nixon trip to the Ming Tombs whose subterranean caverns featured an interred legion of Ming soldiers with their ancient weaponry. In the freezing temperature of that February winter the Nixon entourage witnessed ten pairs of Chinese men in ties and three piece suits playing chess on the tables outside the pavilion that rested above the burial ground. Our guide confided that he, with Red Army officers with rifles backing up his request, had commandeered the men for the staged matches. Some of them, said our guide laughingly, did not even know how to play chess! But it was thought, he explained, that the chess players would enhance the vision of a worker's paradise to the visiting Americans.

A Red Army general at the underground caves had encountered his own problems. Helen Thomas, the UPS reporter covering the Nixon trip, needed to make a phone call back to Washington. The general who was the ranking military officer who was in charge of supervising the caves went to the security gate where there was a telephone but the private on duty there would not yield up the phone to the general. The general was irate. In that time—during Mao's enforced egalitarianism of the Cultural Revolution—officers did not wear their rankings and the lowly private had never met the top general. Thus it was required that the general relay the order to the colonel who passed it on to the captain and then to the private's superior, the sergeant. Helen Thomas would eventually get her phone.

Ambassador Tang Longbin also organized the reception for President Nixon at the Presidential Palace before the meeting with Chairman Mao. Mao's wife, Chiang Ching, was one of the 'Gang of Four' who had militantly opposed the invitation to the capitalist arch-devil. When she learned the Chinese would play the hymn 'America the Beautiful' to greet Nixon on his arrival she unleashed a tirade upon our guide, who was the organizer at that time—"What do you mean 'America the Beautiful'—it should be America the Ugly, America the Hideous, America the Capitalist Exploiter of the Masses." Ambassador Tang Longbin, a young and junior functionary at that time admitted that he feared some measure of disciplinary action or worse from Madame Mao, and in desperation sought the help of Chou Enlai. Chou En-lai then went to her and explained that 'America the Beautiful' referred to "purple mountain majesties" and "fruited plains"—the physical beauty, not the capitalist system. Begrudgingly, Madame Mao relented and the crisis was averted.

Ambassador Tang Longbin also related to us that a principal duty, in Chou En-lai's instructions, was to keep the press corps entertained and distracted. The Chinese had originally balked at Nixon's desire to bring the press to cover the mission. They were used to conducting negotiations in secret and behind closed doors. But 1972 was a presidential election year and Nixon saw the value of such photo-ops featured back in America. Accordingly Nixon took 74 journalists-mostly from the television world. Nixon originally had planned to bring an entourage of a thousand from the White House, as well as from the State and Defense Departments, but it was negotiated by the Chinese down to 500.

Chou En-lai told Ambassador Tang "Keep them busy with all the sights, full with sumptuous food and happy with lots of drink. And don't forget—have the prettiest young women waiting and in attendance."

We also learned how close the Nixon mission came to being aborted when General Alexander Haig, Kissinger's Deputy in the National Security Council, came over on a planning trip following up on Kissinger's secret visit. A boat trip in Hangzhou had been scheduled by the Chinese. The voyage gave a literal meaning to 'frosty reception' when there was no heat in the boat in the cold lake air. Only tea—without biscuits, much less food—was provided. The Chinese hosts made no attempts at conversation. Only a call to Chou En-lai saved the day. The mayor of Shanghai, one of the 'Gang of Four' that was angered by the idea of inviting Nixon, had tried to torpedo the pending Nixon visit. Actually a feast had been spread out but the Mayor's minions took it away and turned off the heat. Chou En-lai took it up with Mao and Mao expressed regrets and reprimanded the Shanghai Mayor.

As insightful as these behind-the-scenes anecdotes are in adding color and texture to the Nixon trip, the real surprise of our 1998 visit to China was the eagerness of these diplomats to tell of their role in preparing and planning the visit. One of these Chinese envoys we interviewed was Ambassador Zhang Yijun, who would cap his diplomatic career heading their embassy in Ottawa, Canada. This tallish diplomat, however, considered his most significant service was as a young Foreign Service officer planning the Nixon trip. Ambassador Zhang Yijun said "We were part of one of history's greatest events, and we have been waiting to tell our story and our contributions."

'Interview' in a sense, is the wrong word. Words spilled out of them in pride of what they did. Our questions turned out to be mainly clarifications of what they said.

We came originally to hear how Chinese diplomats assessed Nixon. They had little to say on that except their esteem for the U.S. president was unqualified. They viewed our trip as an opportunity to carry back to America their role in bringing about this diplomatic triumph.

All of our Chinese Foreign Service participants in our meetings were their English speaking elite. Their personal hero was not Mao, but Chou En-lai. He had shielded them from imprisonment or death during the Cultural Revolution. They would eventually rise in the Foreign Service to be Ambassadors to Britain, Australia, Canada, the Bahamas and other English-speaking posts. But their role in preparing for the Nixon visit in the early part of their service they remember as the high point of their careers.


Nixon Has Second Thoughts on Chiang Kai-Shek

On December 21, 1959, co-author Humes (hereafter Humes or James Humes), his wife and other Nixon staff were invited to Vice-President Nixon's residence on Forest Lane in the Northwest section of Washington. It was a holiday party.

During the occasion Humes approached Nixon as he sampled a Chinese egg roll. "Someday", Nixon pronounced, "I'm going to China."

"Formosa?" Humes queried. Formosa was the island where Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had fled in 1949 after Mao Tse-tung's Red Army drove the Nationalist forces from the mainland. Nixon frowned and said curtly "I said China, didn't I?"

"What about Chiang Kai-shek?" Humes asked Nixon.

He answered dismissively "He's a stupid man. The brains are in his wife. He is a small man, only capable of running a small island."

Some months later that desire of Nixon to visit China surfaced publicly. George Dixon, a Washington columnist who had married the daughter of Democratic Senator Denis Chavez of New Mexico, wrote in a column in March, 1960, of Nixon's mentioning such a trip to him in a private conversation at the Nixon's. When a reporter queried President Eisenhower about the article at a press conference, Eisenhower scoffed at the idea as "ridiculous." Dixon, (whose step-daughter was a friend of James Humes), told him later at dinner at their house that Nixon had even made inquiries at the State Department sounding out the possibility.

In 1953, soon after he was sworn in as Vice-President, Nixon had been sent to Taiwan, the capital of Nationalist China on the island that the Japanese called Formosa. In a series of speeches Nixon lauded the Chiang Kai-shek government. The government was so pleased with his series of four speeches that they presented them in a book and distributed it to libraries in America. Nixon predicted the "Red Rulers on the Mainland" could not last long. "In the end it will be the cause of freedom, the cause of representative government, rather than the cause of slavery and totalitarianism that will triumph in China."

At that time the Nationalist Chinese lobby in Washington was in its heyday. The chief spokesman for its cause was the senior senator from California, William Knowland. Capital reporters often derided him as "the senator from Formosa." In the summer of 1953 Knowland had succeeded the dying Robert Taft as the Senate Republican Minority Leader. But by 1959 Knowland was no longer a political force. He had been defeated by Pat Brown in a race for governor of California.


Excerpted from "Only Nixon" by James C. Humes, Jarvis D. Ryals. Copyright © 2009 University Press of America, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of University Press Of America, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Professor James C. Humes, a former White House speechwriter and State Department planner under Nixon, is currently a fellow at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. His biography of Churchill, nominated for a Pulitzer, won the Athenaeum Award. He has written thirty-two books, including Nixon's Ten Commandments of Leadership and Negotiation and Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter. Humes, who was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the Center for International Scholars at the Smithsonian, has lectured on American government in over thirty universities in Asia and Latin America on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Jarvis D. Ryals, M.D., is board certified in both psychiatry and neurology, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. He is a community leader in medicine and public health. While pursuing his interest in history, he has traveled widely to interview government leaders, including a former president and prime minister.

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