February 21, 1972 – RN Arrives in Peking
Upon the arrival of the Spirit of ’76 at Capital Airport later that morning, President Nixon and the American delegation were welcomed to Peking with a lavish arrival ceremony hosted by the People’s Republic of China’s Premier Chou En-lai. President Nixon made the first gesture of peace by shaking the premier’s hand, which former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had refused to do in 1954. The welcome ceremony ended just before noon and the Americans were then escorted to their lodgings in Peking, where they spent the next few hours waiting, uncertain of what was in store for the rest of the day.
Then, around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the President received word that Chairman Mao Tse-tung desired to meet with him. Such a meeting had been hoped for by President Nixon and his advisers, but it had not been included in the itinerary of the trip and came as a surprise to the American delegation. Without a moment’s hesitation, the President went to Chairman Mao’s residence and sat down for a chat with the political leader of the People’s Republic of China. This historic meeting of minds lasted just over an hour and was President Nixon’s only meeting with Mao during the weeklong trip.
That evening Premier Chou hosted a welcome banquet for the Presidential party. President Nixon and the premier both delivered toasts honoring each other and expressing hope that the events of the coming week would build a foundation for a lasting friendship between China and the United States of America.
Harmony Barker is a Research Assistant at the Richard Nixon Foundation.