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Music still orchestrates US-China ties 46 years on

China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-26 08:24
Musicians with the Philadelphia Orchestra perform in front of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing's Tiantan Park in May 2012.[Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

"Ping-pong diplomacy" is a well-known term in the history of US-China ties, but few may be aware that music also played an often overlooked part in thawing the frosty relations between the two countries.

Although it is commonplace today for artists from the United States and China to share a stage, it most certainly was not the case before the 1970s.

The Philadelphia Orchestra was at the vanguard, making history with their pioneering trip to China in 1973.

Founded in 1900, the orchestra has a long and distinguished history of touring the world. Its lasting ties with China mark a significant chapter in the orchestra's history of more than a century.

As cultural exchanges between the two sides flourish, the Philadelphia Orchestra continues to cultivate its ties with China as it prepares for its May visit to the Chinese mainland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of US-China diplomatic relations.

In 1973, at the invitation of then US president Richard Nixon, the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first American orchestra to visit the People's Republic of China - a trip considered a key part of Washington's rapprochement with Beijing in the 1970s.

The trip came at a time when "the intensity of the curiosity from both sides was easy to see", says Nicholas Platt, a former US ambassador to China, who was on hand to coordinate the event.

"We were just fascinated by the interest that the people in both countries expressed in each other, and the result was a lot of wonderful exchanges which continue to this day," the veteran diplomat, who is also the orchestra's senior adviser, says when recounting the historic visit to China.

It took place in September, only a few months after the US Liaison Office in Beijing was opened, "but it was one of the big highlights of that year", he adds.

If ping-pong diplomacy is what paved the way for Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972 to re-establish official ties with China, the visit by the Philadelphia Orchestra is believed to be one that helped cement it.

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