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Henry Kissinger Working To Create Deeper Understanding With “On China”

May 14, 2011

One of those unexpected long-form reads in the morning newspaper was perfect for a cloudy and rather dreary looking day in Madison.  Henry Kissinger will release a new book Tuesday that will examine more fully the  strategic mindset of  China.   “On China” authored by the former international diplomat, and intellectual heavy-weight places Kissinger front and center in the ongoing attempt to better understand the word’s most populous nation.

The opening to China undertaken in the early 1970’s remains in my mind the way government can work, and should work to move what some see as insurmountable obstacles.  The manner in which the Nixon White House operated to keep the mission secret so to increase the chance of success was proper.    Though Watergate gets the top paragraph in most Nixon news accounts, it is the China trip that remains the most important legacy of RN.

For China’s classical sages, the world could never be conquered; wise rulers could hope only to harmonize with its trends. There was no New World to populate, no redemption awaiting mankind on distant shores. The promised land was China, and the Chinese were already there.

Transparency is an essential objective, but historic opportunities for building a more peaceful international order have imperatives as well.

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Mao’s residence was approached through a wide gate on the east–west axis carved from where the ancient city walls stood before the Communist revolution. Inside the Imperial City, the road hugged a lake, on the other side of which stood a series of residences for high officials. All had been built in the days of Sino-Soviet friendship and reflected the heavy Stalinist style of the period. Mao’s residence appeared no different, though it stood slightly apart from the others. There were no visible guards or other appurtenances of power. A small anteroom was almost completely dominated by a Ping-Pong table.

It did not matter because we were taken directly to Mao’s study, a room of modest size with bookshelves lining three walls filled with manuscripts in a state of considerable disarray. Books covered the tables and were piled up on the floor. A simple wooden bed stood in a corner. The all-powerful ruler of the world’s most populous nation wished to be perceived as a philosopher-king who had no need to buttress his authority with traditional symbols of majesty.

Mao rose from an armchair in the middle of a semicircle of armchairs with an attendant close by to steady him if necessary. We learned later that he had suffered a debilitating series of heart and lung ailments in the weeks before and that he had difficulty moving. Overcoming his handicaps, Mao exuded an extraordinary willpower and determination. He took Nixon’s hands in both of his and showered his most benevolent smile on him. The picture appeared in all the Chinese newspapers.

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