From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to Beijing to open relations with Communist China was both a Cold War milestone and compelling political theater. Diplomatic historian MacMillan, author of the acclaimed Paris 1919, gives a lively account of the pomp and protocol surrounding the trip: the awkward banquets, the toasts to peace and friendship (punctuated by occasional anti-imperialist lectures), the Great Wall pilgrimages, the proletarian operas (Nixon attended The Red Detachment of Women, in which peasants and revolutionaries battle landlords). MacMillan's even better on the behind-the-scenes negotiations, as the two sides wrangle over every word of the climactic Shanghai communiqué. More than Nixon and the cloistered Mao, the central figures are Henry Kissinger and Chinese premier Chou En-Lai, tasked with finding common ground and finessing differences with subtle verbiage and winks and nods. The author fills in the background with colorful, incisive biographical sketches and a lucid history of Sino-American relations. The encounter seems to have had little impact on the issues discussed during the trip—the Vietnam war, the fate of Taiwan, relations with the Soviets. Still, MacMillan argues, it opened the door to today's necessary relationship between the two Pacific powers, and she turns a potentially dry diplomatic story into a fascinating study in high-wire diplomacy, full of intrigue and drama. Photos. (Feb. 20)
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Margaret MacMillan follows Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (**** Mar/Apr 2003) with another tale of a world-changing encounter. She draws parallel narratives of how the two world leaders met in a momentous (if stilted) handshake, and she peppers her analysis with fascinating details, such as what led to Mao's 1958 decision regarding the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu and the American commitment to defend Taiwan. MacMillan's use of flashback (the narrative begins with Nixon's trip to Beijing and then moves backward to the months leading up to the flight) confused a few critics, and some wished for more nuanced analyses of Chinese and Soviet politics. Macmillan's portrayal of key characters, including Henry Kissinger and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, stands out. After meeting Mao Zedong, Nixon remarked to him that "history has brought us together." Thirty-five years later, it has brought them to MacMillan's capable hands.
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