February 22, 1972 – Panda Diplomacy
President Nixon spent the entirety of his second day in China absorbed in meetings and talks with Chinese and American officials. While her husband was occupied attending to matters of state, First Lady Pat Nixon ventured out into the new frontier of Chinese tourism. She embarked on an official tour of Peking, which included a stop at the Peking Zoo where she fell in love with the Giant Pandas. Premier Chou En-lai would later make a gift of two Giant Pandas to the people of the United States after hearing how much the First Lady admired them. The last stop for the day was Peking’s Summer Palace, a complex of gardens and pavilions first constructed in 1750 and declared an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998.
The evening of the 22nd, after the First Lady had returned from her excursion and after the President had concluded talks for the day, the Nixons accompanied Premier Chou En-lai, Chairman Mao’s wife, Chiang Ching, and other high-level Chinese officials to a performance of The Red Detachment of Women. The revolutionary ballet, the production of which was overseen by Madame Mao herself, was based on the true story of an all-female company of the Chinese Red Army. Despite the political nature of the ballet, the President and Mrs. Nixon were impressed by the talented dancers and gymnasts who performed and they complimented Madame Mao on her skilled direction after the finale. At 11 p.m., the President and the First Lady finally retired to their suite to rest up before the next day’s events.
Harmony Barker is a Research Assistant at the Richard Nixon Foundation.