Nixon and China

Nixon Goes to China

Common Core Standards: RH1, RH2, RH6, WHST1, WHST2

Connections: This lesson can be used as part of a broader examination of 20th century China, particularly related to the significance of the Mao era and its lasting effects.  This lesson can also be used to analyze China’s economic growth and corresponding social and political challenges during the post-Mao years.  From a skill-based perspective, this lesson can be used to analyze primary sources, editorial cartoons, understanding the relationship of causes and effects, and making predictions based on relevant evidence.

Time: three to four class meetings


Students will:

  • analyze primary sources to ascertain the causes of the diplomatic and popular shift in American attitudes toward China.
  • evaluate the consequences of the changed diplomatic relationship on both the United States and China.
  • determine and assess current American views toward China.


Students will read “Diplomacy: Richard Nixon’s Long March to Shanghai,” from Time (,9171,910200,00.html) to develop background knowledge of the issue.  As students read, they will fill out the graphic organizer found at  Information on the organizer should be used as a review of the major elements of the event.

Learning Activities:

Part A

Using the editorial cartoons in the Appendix section of this lesson plan, coupled with the background reading from the initiation exercise, have students determine the following:

  • identify the major players (China, Taiwan, United States, Richard Nixon, Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, Jiang Jieshi, etc.) involved in the event.
  • assess the nature of the U.S.-Chinese relationship.
  • ascertain the political stances of the various players (U.S., China, Taiwan, USSR) toward each other.
  • determine the political and economic implications of Nixon’s visit to China.

(Please note that it may be useful to review guidelines for examining political cartoons from

Part B

Select several resources provided at the websites from the Tapes, Texts, and Transcripts section of the Appendix.  Please note: the teacher should use his or her discretion when selecting the number of resources, but four or five is appropriate for this exercise.  Divide the students into several groups (the size of which will vary based on the number of students), depending on the number of resources that will be analyzed.  Each group of students will examine the nature of the relationship between the two countries leading up to Nixon’s visit.  This can include, but is not limited to:

  • the political and economic motivations of Nixon’s visit.
  • explanations to citizens, government officials, etc.
  • examples of gestures and words of mutual respect between the nations.
  • concerns about potential political fallout with respective allies
  • the political and economic implications of closer ties between the two nations.

Each group will share their findings with the other groups and/or the class as a whole.  The teacher can decide to have students from each group create a new group so that the members of the group have each read a different resource.  Alternatively, each original group can work together to present their findings to the entire class.  Regardless of the sharing format, this will serve as the basis of a class discussion related to the significance of Nixon’s trip on U.S.-Chinese relations Discussion questions can focus on topics such as:

  • How did both countries benefit from Nixon’s visit?
  • Why might Americans and Chinese respond both positively and negatively to closer relations between the countries?
  • Should a nation’s leaders talk to leaders of countries that may be considered unfriendly?
  • Can countries be economically close but politically distant?
  • Is it important that global powers cooperate?
  • Are there present day parallels between the United States and China or the United States and other countries?


Distribute the full texts or excerpts of the following source materials to individual students or to selected groups of students (again, teacher discretion is advised based on reading levels, grade levels, course, and other relevant factors).  Using their assigned source, students will write a three-paragraph minimum essay that includes: an evaluation of the modern relationship between China and the United States, a comparison of current relations with those prior to Nixon’s visit, and a prediction of future relations between the two countries.

  • White House statement on the U.S.-China bilateral meeting of April, 2009:

  • President Obama’s speech on U.S.-China relations:

  • President Hu’s China-U.S. Strategic And Economic Dialogue Address:

If necessary, the following websites may be useful for examining future implications of the relationship between the United States and China, and can be used in conjunction with the aforementioned resources:

Other Ideas:

Other Primary Sources:

  • Chronology of Visit to the People's Republic of China:

  • PBS Interview with Henry Kissinger:

  • Selected English-language news media from China:

Further Reading:

  • Ladley, Eric. Nixon's China Trip (2002).
  • MacMillan, Margaret.  Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World (2008).
  • Mann, James. About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton (2000).

§  The New York Times: China News

BBC News:

§  China Country Profile

§  CIA: The World Factbook – China

  • U.S. State Department information on China:



Political Cartoons,%20political/qqxsgPingPong.gif

Tapes, Texts, and Transcripts

  • Several documents from the National Security Archive

  • Excerpts from the Third Chronological Conversation Tape Release (i.e. Nixon’s Trip to China)

  • Joint Communique of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China (Shanghai Communique)

  • Typescript of Speech President Nixon Gave Announcing Upcoming Trip to China

  • Typescript Translation of Prime Minister Chou En-lai’s Toast at the Banquet in Honor of President Richard Nixon