Today in History

Today in History: February 21

Nixon in China

Richard M. Nixon, head-and-shoulders portrait
Richard M. Nixon, circa 1969-74.
By Popular Demand: Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present

On February 21, 1972, Richard M. Nixon arrived in China for an historic eight-day official visit. He was the first U.S. president to visit the People's Republic of China since its founding in 1949.

The meeting between Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai resulted in the Shanghai Communique, a pledge to set aside differences, especially on Taiwan, and to begin the process of the normalization of relations.

The United States began to take an active interest in establishing political and economic ties with China in the nineteenth century. After Japan attempted to invade China in 1894-95, Russia, France, Germany, and Great Britain sought to protect their interests in that country by carving the nation into spheres of influence. The U.S., an important power in the Pacific as a consequence of its 1898 victory, in the Spanish-American War, attempted to prevent this division with the formulation, in 1899 and 1900, of what came to be known as the Open Door policy. This policy proposed both to ensure all nations equal trading privileges in China and to protect Chinese sovereignty.

Peking – Inside View of Gateway Leading toward the Emperor's Palace, Peking,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
September 1895.
Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World's Transportation Commission, 1894-1896

For an overview of Sino-American relations, as well as information about many other aspects of Chinese history, see China: a country study, part of a continuing series of books prepared by the Federal Research Division (FRD) of the Library of Congress. See also FRD’s Country Profile: China (PDF, 253 KB), summarized information on that country’s historical background, society, government and politics, and more.

Various American Memory collections provide information on China and the Chinese.