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My First Trip

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MIT, Visualizing Cultures

My First Trip

My First Trip is a growing collection of essays in which authors recount their maiden excursions into and out of China. The project began in January 2011 when Kin-ming Liu, then an editor at the Hong Kong Economic Journal invited diplomats, reporters, and scholars to write about their first visits to the P.R.C. We have republished a selection of the HKEJ’s resulting “My First Trip to China” series below. In its new incarnation here, the series will include tales of Chinese voyages to the Unites States. A selection of pieces from the original series was published in book form as My First Trip to China: Scholars, Diplomats and Journalists Reflect on their First Encounters with China in 2012 by Muse.

My First Trip


After Ping Pong, Before Kissinger


My first trip to China apparently began in Montreal.It was April 1971, and the American ping-pong team had just been invited to China, opening the public part of the complex diplomacy that eventually brought Richard Nixon to Beijing and direct relations between the U.S. and the People’s Republic. I was then the Washington-based diplomatic correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and had been trying for years to get a journalist’s visa from the Chinese government. That on-again, off-again effort started when I was based in Hong...

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My First Trip


A China Frontier: Once the Border of Borders


In 1961, when I first arrived in Hong Kong as an aspiring young China scholar, there was something deeply seductive about the way this small British enclave of capitalism clung like a barnacle to the enormity of China’s socialist revolution. Because it shared a border with Hong...

My First Trip


Struggling with Antonioni


My first sight of Beijing was puzzling. It was October 1973, at the end of a very long flight, and the city seemed so dark I could hardly believe we had arrived. In those days, flights to China were not allowed to cross Soviet airspace—the two countries had fallen out at...

My First Trip


Coming Home to a New Place Each Time


As a Hong Kong-born Chinese who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, it’s hard to pinpoint my first trip to China; at least, one that I remember clearly, for my real first trip was as a toddler, in 1953 in the arms of my mother who carried me to her hometown of Fuzhou. Most likely I...

My First Trip


Busman’s Holiday


The train from the old Kowloon station rumbled as it passed the Chinese border fence on its way to Canton and came to a lurching halt. It was a late summer day in 1981; I was thirty-two years old and now, as I reflected with deep satisfaction, no one could ever again dismiss me...

My First Trip


Deng's Heyday


When I began thinking about writing this piece, my first trip to China in 1984 had seemed like a disappointment. Unlike today, this was the China of Great Events: the launch of bold reforms and an era of intellectual ferment unlike any since. Before arriving I had read about the...

My First Trip


My Long March from Mao to Now


In my third year at McGill University in Montreal, a much older, married classmate suggested the two of us go to China during our summer vacation. I was 19; she was probably all of 25. When we applied for visas, she, a white Australian, was turned down and I was approved. It was...

My First Trip


An Australian Gets to Beijing, 1964


In the early 1960s, few Westerners set foot in the People’s Republic of China. Australians needed permission from their own government to go there. Some got a green light, but Beijing guarded visas for people from non-Communist countries like precious jewels. Australia, in step...

My First Trip


Let the Devil Take the Hindmost


China became part of my life when I met and married Edgar Snow. I had read Red Star Over China long before I knew the author but the years that followed were largely devoted to my acting career in New York. China was rather remote from Broadway. Through Ed, I developed close...

My First Trip


The Alternative Route


Twenty-one years after the fact, my efforts to reconstruct my first trip to China produce a confusion of impressions in which multiple images are fused together and refuse to be unraveled or separated. Having lived in China for nineteen of those twenty-one years—I moved up from...

My First Trip


The First American Official to Visit China since 1949


Certainly, the single most dramatic event that I've been involved in had to do with the opening to China in the early 1970s. In my entire career the question of relations with China has been the most important, including not only the work I did in the 1970s but also as Ambassador...

My First Trip


With Nixon in China


On a chill, gray Monday morning, on February 21, 1972, I stood on the steps of the old Hongqiao Airport terminal. I had arrived in Shanghai twenty minutes in advance of President Nixon. I was on the backup plane, which arrived first, so I actually saw the arrival of Air Force One...

My First Trip




In 1972, a man named Jack Chen showed up in New York. He was the younger son of Eugene Chen, who had been an associate of Sun Yat-sen’s and intermittently foreign minister for various GMD governments. Jack’s mother was Trinidadian. He grew up there and did not speak much...

My First Trip


The Missionary Spirit Dies Hard


I started studying the Chinese language August 15, 1960 at 9 am. Confucius said "Establish yourself at thirty," and, having just celebrated my thirtieth birthday, I decided he was right. I would not be allowed to visit China, however, until May 20, 1972. For almost twelve years...

My First Trip


Dawn in China


My father was a radical leftist professor. He led study tours to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and later admired Mao Zedong. That influence, in addition to the passion in the late 1960s and early 1970s within the American student movement against our country’s war in Vietnam, a...

My First Trip


Looking Back from Age Ninety


May 1944: Based on a language aptitude test, I was taken out of the infantry, training in the Oregon snows, and shipped down to sunny Stanford, to be trained in Japanese. I opted for Chinese instead, thinking this would bring me home earlier. And then…. And then I totally fell...