Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Nixons China Game Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Reference
Interview Transcripts | Further Reading

Zhang Ham Zhi, Interpreter, Chinese Foreign Ministry, on:
the terms of Nixon’s visit to China

Zhang Ham Zh I wasn't there when he made the trip to Tian Tai, but my late husband, who was the vice foreign minister at that time, was the chief negotiator with the Americans. He went to Kissinger. I understand they were having a very tough time at that time because they were negotiating already on the draft of the Shanghai communiqué. I remember when they went to Tian Tai that was supposed to be a leisurely sightseeing activity, but it was not really casual and leisurely for either of them because they were all very tense at that time. If they could agree basically on the Shanghai communiqué, then that would be a basis for the possible visit of President Nixon; otherwise, it would be hard for the Americans to send their President to China. So later I heard that actually when they were in Tian Tai, my late husband and Kissinger were not really enjoying the beautiful temple, they were still going on with their negotiation. As I remember, that was really a very difficult day.

I was the chief interpreter, so I was with General Haig and the whole group all the time. They stayed in the delegate guest house and the negotiating itself went on, I think pretty much smoothly with both sides. The Chinese group and the American group were really working to realize Nixon's visit; they were not supposed to argue on any major issues, political issues. So of course there were a lot of differences like whether the Chinese would allow the Americans to bring their own cars, whether the Chinese side would allow Nixon's bodyguards to be in the same car. At that time the American side showed very good co-operation, you know, on most issues. They agreed to the Chinese arrangement, including letting their President take the Chinese airplane, the Russian airplane. For most of the Americans, it was their very first time to be in China, and they felt everything so strange, everything so exciting. I think before they left, the State Department probably, or the White House, gave everyone a sheet of paper telling them what to be careful of, in Red China -- what they should do, what they shouldn't do. Before they left, they carelessly threw this paper away in the wastepaper basket. And of course our waiters were very careful about every document. In those days people were very, very alert about the Americans, so they picked up everything. So we knew that they were fully prepared. The State Department really, or the White House, really let them know all the details about China and what they should be careful of. But there were also very interesting incidents, like we find that all Americans like Chinese candies. Chinese hospitality is that we serve candy and fruits in every room. The waiters said, "Oh these Americans really like Chinese candies, because once you fill their dishes with candies, they are gone after a few hours."

The chief negotiator was Mr. Han Shui, who was at that time the director of the protocol department, and then he was Ambassador to the U.S., Chinese Ambassador to U.S. On the U.S. side, of course, it was General Haig. I think the whole atmosphere was a good one. Not as tense as the political negotiations, which sometimes became very, very intense, but these were more or less working sessions. Of course, both sides didn't agree on many of the things from the very start, and that was only natural considering that, at that time, U.S. and China had been separated for so, so long, and they really lacked a mutual understanding. My feeling on the whole was that it was more or less a sort of a friendly negotiation. I tell you one thing which showed the atmosphere. Mr. Hanshui was a very good negotiator, and when the U.S. side raised some demand, you know, like the bullet-proof car, Hanshui said, "No, we cannot allow that." That’s our sovereignty, and then General Haig would insist. and then Mr. Hanshui would always say one thing. He said, "No General Haig, I have to remind you that this is a principle, you know, and we cannot give up on principle issues." And so after some rounds of discussions, finally General Haig said, "Okay, we respect the Chinese sides decision." And then on the next issue, when the Chinese side raised something, the American side wouldn't agree and Mr. Hanshui would say, "General Haig, this is where we should have flexibility." So in the end General Haig said, "Now I understand. When you want something, you say this is principle; when you don't want something, you say this is flexibility." So in the end we joked about flexibility and principle, so I mean the whole atmosphere was kind of friendly. And finally on the bullet proof car and on the bodyguards the American side showed a very considerate attitude and they agreed to use our bullet proof car, with the red flag, huge bullet proof car. And they also agreed that there should be Chinese bodyguards on President Nixon's car, not the Americans. And they also agreed to take the Chinese airplane from Beijing to Hangzhou. But the Chinese side made one concession: that is a small group of Chinese -- the top ones and also the major interpreters -- would be guests on Airforce One, from Hangzhou to Shanghai. So that was a kind of compromise. I think that was a happy solution, considering the time.

back to Interview Transcripts | next


Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference

The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Maps | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

©  New content 1999 PBS Online / WGBH