The Trickster and the Monster: When Nixon Went to China
Chas Freeman and Gish Jen Guest on Radio Open Source
Open Source is the world’s longest-running podcast. Christopher Lydon circles the big ideas in culture, the arts and politics with the smartest people in the world. It’s the kind of curious, critical, high-energy conversation we’re all missing nowadays.
It was the meeting, just 50 years ago this month, that changed more lives at more levels than any other political handshake in our lifetimes. The Trickster and the Monster, as the principals had been nicknamed, with some justice: Richard Nixon, the American president who would leave office two years later in Watergate disgrace, and Mao Zedong, the Communist chairman whose fanatical Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution had already taken 50 million Chinese lives, maybe more. Strange to tell, their breakthrough in Beijing—February, 1972—was not about changing China or the US. It was about fending off pressure they both were feeling from Soviet Russia. But it’s the unintended consequences we notice now, the loveless connection that made China the world’s workshop.
This show is the first of a series we’re calling In Search of Monsters: The Rise and Fall of American Empire, in collaboration with the Quincy Institute, nudging all of us to rethink what we’re doing in this 21st century. Time travel with us this hour, back 50 years to the spark that renewed China and began a remapping of the human story. Our guest, Chas Freeman, was there that whole week, between Richard Nixon and China’s Chairman Mao Zedong, interpreting one to the other in Beijing, and noting odd details at a sharp turn of history: Mrs. Nixon’s knockout red coat, for example. Make of it what you will: the Chinese-American novelist Gish Jen calls her new story collection Thank You, Mr. Nixon—specially for that red coat.
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