The Foreign Service Journal - March 2014 - page 30

MARCH 2014
Nixon Goes to China
After more than two decades of icy Sino-American relations,
President Richard Nixon embarked on an historic trip to China
in February 1972. Not only did the visit strengthen Chinese-
American relations, but it also served to encourage closer ties to
the Soviet Union.
Being a member of the official delegation was, of course, a
great honor, and everyone did what the White House directed him
or her to do. Everyone, that is, except FSO
Chas Freeman
, who
was the senior interpreter, for reasons he explains in this excerpt
little after 8 o’clock on the evening of Feb. 21, 1972, the ban-
quet having been moved down to about 9:30, I was called
over to the president’s villa. [White House aide] Dwight Chapin
came out and said, “The president would like you to interpret the
banquet toast tonight.”
And I said, “Fine. Could I have the text, please, so that I can
work it over?”
He said, “Well, I don’t know. There may not be a text.”
I said, “Well, I know there’s a text; there’s got to be. Chinese is
not French or Spanish. One has to consider carefully how this is
done if it’s to be done well. I’m sure there’s a text, and I’d appre-
ciate your getting it for me.”
He went into the president’s office, and came out and again
said, “There is no text, and the president would like you to inter-
I said, “Well, I happen to know that there is a text. And really I
must insist on having that text. I have something approaching a
photographic memory; I just need to read it once.”
Dwight Chapin was the gatekeeper, the appointments secre-
tary, I believe, for the president, later convicted of perjury. At any
rate, he went back in a third time, and he came out and said again,
“There is no text, and the president orders you to interpret.”
And I said, “Well, it might interest you to know that I did the
first draft of the toast tonight, and while I don’t know what was
done to it in detail at the National Security Council and by the
speechwriters, I do know that some of Chairman Mao’s poetry
was inserted into it. And if you think I’m going to get up in front
of the entire Chinese politburo and ad-lib Chairman Mao’s
poetry back into Chinese, you’re nuts. …”
He said, “All right.”
President Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai toast the opening of U.S.-China relations in February 1972 in Beijing.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
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