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Huang Hua and Henry Kissinger:

Witnesses to History Meet Again


Chinese officials greet Henry Kissinger at Nanyuan military airport on July 9, 1971. From left to right: Ji Chaozhu, Ye Jianying, Huang Hua, Henry Kissinger, Zhang Wenjin and Tang Wensheng.


Huang Hua presents a painting of longevity peaches as a bithday gift to Henry Kissinger.

ON August 11, 2008, Huang Hua got up earlier than usual from his sickbed at Beijing Hospital. With the help of his nurses, he changed out of his hospital clothes and into smart pants, a white shirt and a purple-red jacket in the classic Chinese style. He then shaved and combed before sitting down on a sofa. He asked his wife, He Liliang, if he looked OK. He wanted his old friend Henry Kissinger, who was coming to visit him, to see the same diplomat he had known for so long.

Three months earlier, Kissinger had written Huang telling him he would take his family to watch the Beijing Olympic Games and visit his old friend. At the appointed time, Kissinger arrived on Huang's ward with his wife Nancy, son David, and grandson and granddaughter. Huang Hua greeted them warmly, shaking a rattle-drum that the Olympic opening ceremony had provided the spectators. He then pulled himself up from the sofa and embraced his old friend.

The Olympics

    Huang Hua greatly regretted that his condition prevented him from attending the Olympic opening ceremony. Neither could he watch it on television because of his failing eyesight. Rather, he stayed up late and listened to the live broadcast. The next day, he asked his wife, who was present at the opening ceremony, to give him more details.

    When the two friends finally met, Kissinger told Huang Hua that he had strongly suggested President Bush attend the opening ceremony, saying China deserved his visit. "Our two countries are very important to one another, though we cannot agree on every policy detail. We must work together to narrow our discrepancy and avoid confrontation," Kissinger told Huang, and the latter nodded his agreement, their hands clasped tightly.

    "It was beyond my expectations, and I was greatly impressed," Kissinger said of the opening show. "The opening ceremony was magnificent and touching." He observed that only a self-confident people could present a performance that combined history and the future in such a forceful way.

    In reply, Huang Hua said: "China has a 5,000-year history, and the Chinese like to record everything, such as current events, solar and lunar eclipses and earthquakes. Everything has been written down."

    "Did you think the opening ceremony was too long?" Huang asked his friend. Kissinger answered, "The American TV station didn't think so. It spent nearly 900 million dollars on the exclusive rights to televise the Beijing Olympics, and for them the longer the better."

    Kissinger also told Huang Hua that within 12 hours of the opening ceremony, he received a series of positive reports remarking that the Beijing Olympics had played a positive role in cementing China's international status.

Recalling 1971

    Huang Hua's friendship with Henry Kissinger dates back to the tentative Sino-U.S. dialogue that began almost four decades ago. On July 8, 1971, Kissinger suddenly disappeared during a trip to Pakistan, and flew secretly to Beijing on Nixon's orders. The two countries had been facing off for three decades, and Americans knew little of what was happening in China. Meanwhile, the Chinese believed that "American imperialists" and other reactionaries were all "paper tigers" that deserved to be brought down.

    On Chairman Mao Zedong's instructions, Huang Hua also "disappeared" a month before Kissinger's arrival, staying secretly at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in preparation for Kissinger's visit. From July 9 to 11, Premier Zhou Enlai spoke with Kissinger six times, and on July 16 the two sides released a joint communiqué on the Sino-U.S. talks. Four decades later, the two negotiators recalled with good humor how they labored over the subtle wording of the communiqué.

    Following the talks, the two sides each produced a draft of the communiqué. The Chinese draft was simply worded, stating that Kissinger had come to Beijing and talked with the Chinese side, and more importantly, that President Nixon would visit China soon.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us