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US journalists recall landmark trip

Updated: 2012-01-20 08:18
By Tan Yingzi ( China Daily)

WASHINGTON - Forty years ago, nearly 100 US correspondents landed in China to begin their unforgettable and adventurous journey covering the historic visit of US President Richard Nixon, which changed the world's political landscape.

US journalists recall landmark trip

Premier Zhou Enlai and US President Richard Nixon review a guard of honor on Nixon's arrival at Beijing Airport on Feb 21, 1972.  [Photo/Xinhua]

The US broadcast networks televised live the images of Nixon shaking hands with Premier Zhou Enlai, and Nixon going to the Great Hall of the People and attending a banquet with senior Chinese officials.

But how this coverage took place and how it evolved was not well-known to the public. So Mike Chinoy, former CNN senior Asia correspondent and Beijing bureau chief, decided to make a documentary to record this milestone in US journalism history.

Produced by the US-China Institute (USCI) at the University of Southern California, Assignment: China - The Week that Changed the World uses previously unreleased footage and interviews with the reporters and officials who accompanied Nixon to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the media coverage of the trip.

"One of the consequences of the trip came from the media coverage which helped change American perceptions about China and laid the ground for a better relationship," Chinoy told China Daily before the screening of the film on Tuesday at the United States Institute of Peace.

"In Assignment: China, we are trying to tell the behind-the-scenes story of who actually told the Nixon story, and add a new dimension to our understanding of that."

In the film, the correspondents and officials recall how media outlets and journalists fought for a berth on the trip to China and many media presidents, vice-presidents or executive directors even signed up as technicians in order to get on the flight.

Dan Rather of ABC describes the trip to China as "going to another planet".

Max Frankel of The New York Times said he lived on aspirin during the week-long trip and almost fell asleep at the last dinner in China. He barely slept and wrote three articles per day, a total of about 35,000 words. He later received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his coverage of the event.

Barbara Walters, one of the three female reporters in the US press corps, disclosed her trick to make a Chinese official talk in her show, which was forbidden at that time.

In the following discussion, Bernard Kalb, a former correspondent for the New York Times, CBS News and NBC News, said that in order to get a perfect handshake with Premier Zhou at the airport, Nixon kept practicing handshaking on the flight to China.

"What went on in China 40 years ago is probably the biggest development in global politics and continues to reflect through so many aspects of what we are doing on the global stage," Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US Department of State, said at the event.

"Those of us involved in the US-China relationship understand very clearly that we have no choice but develop the best possible constructive relationship between the United States and China. The region demands it, global politics expects it."

In addition to the episode on the Nixon visit, Assignment: China will tell the story of the correspondents who have covered China for the US media from the Chinese civil war in the 1940s to the present day.

Two are complete and one is already available at www. The Nixon episode will be online in a couple of weeks.

The premise behind the documentary is that "the way US journalists have portrayed China has been crucial in shaping how the public, and newspaper readers and TV viewers all over the world, have understood or misunderstood the country", according to USCI's introduction.