It is two months since I saw ‘Chimerica’ by Lucy Kirkwood at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London but it had a big impact on me. It sent me back to Chinese films I loved and added a pile of books to the ‘pending’ section of my bookshelves. Here is one book from that pile.
‘Seize the Hour’ by Margaret MacMillan is a fascinating book about the famous meeting between leaders of two super powers in 1972. I read her book about the work of politicians at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. I thought it was excellent so knew that this book would be worth reading.
The personal is political and vice versa in this study of what Mao labelled ‘the week that changed the world’. Nixon wanted a legacy for his presidency and was more interested in foreign affairs than the domestic scene. I think it is safe to say that Nixon did leave a legacy, just not one of which to be proud. The domestic dirty tricks surrounding Watergate overshadowed any good he did on the international scene.
I thought it was significant that, when he came to power, Nixon was the most experienced President in generations, in terms of experience of international affairs. Nixon and Mao are the figureheads but Kissinger and Chinese premier, Chou En- Lai, did most of the diplomacy. In fact, Nixon and Mao only met once during the trip. The Americans held out hope for a second meeting but the Chinese leader was too frail.
This book is about the four men and what drove them. Nixon’s relationship with Kissinger, another mercurial character, was not without jealousy. Kissinger also manoeuvred to keep the Secretary of State on the side-lines. On the Chinese side, Mao was old, infirm and without people near him to speak truth unto power. His premier, Chou En-Lai, was skilful at diplomacy but sensitive on perceived slights from the west. With the emotional baggage these four were carrying around, it is a surprise that they were able to achieve a significant step forward in international relations.
Margaret MacMillan’s work is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?