on education 

on housing 

on foreign policy

The Role of Public
Diplomacy in the
Evolution of
United States–China
Relations, 1972
through 2002

I.  The Getting-to-
Know-You Years, 
1972 through 1979

II.  1980 through 2000:
The Years of Explosive
Growth in Travel,
 Investment, Commerce, 
and Cross-Cultural
Study and
Language Training

III.  Todays United States
China Interdependence:
Lessons Learned and Their
Application to the Current 
United States
Islam Divide


One China or Two?







U.S. State Department

U.S. State Department Background Note:  China





Maps of China

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, 2002, China notes including map

Perspectives on Foreign Policy



The David G. Scanlon  Lecture Series:  The Role of Public Diplomacy in the Evolution of United States–China Relations, 1972 through 2002.  The second of three lectures. 



1980 through 2000: 
The Years of Explosive Growth in Travel, Investment,
Commerce, and Cross-Cultural Study and Language Training

by Robert L. Nichols



On December 15, 1978, President Carter announced that official recognition of China and the normalization of our relations would take place on January 1, 1979.

       Deng came to the United States for the formalities and to travel. The latter, you might remember, included a visit to a Texas rodeo, where Deng was photographed wearing a cowboy hat. Soon thereafter, the changes began to surface in the way that China related to the rest of the world.  

       Tourism was opened up, and the National Committee for United States–China Relations began to sponsor trips for selected groups, composed largely of influential Americans—those who would pass the word about what they observed when they returned.  

       Soon thereafter, I retired from the government, and beginning in 1980, I was fortunate enough to be asked to work as an escort for such groups, which exposed me to “changing China,” changes that started relatively slowly and then picked up in pace. Within ten years—by 1990—China, particularly the cities, was already another world. China had finally put its foot in the door of the twentieth century.

      I remember one of the first changes I noticed was in women’s hair styles with the opening of beauty parlors. Soon the pace of change was almost at breakneck speed. The great influences on China's culture and society were many:  Returning students brought back American dress, ideas, and fluency in the English language, which helped Chinese businesses in many ways.  Tourism exploded from none to hundreds of thousands.  Then television enveloped the country, first in the cities, but then too in the countryside—village skylines began to include television antennas as part of their normal image. Then it was computers and mobile phones. Then an explosion in the number of automobiles, all shapes and sizes—foreign imports and locally made, but little or no reduction in the number of bicycles. But still the traffic lights remain only for the timid and certainly not for bicycles or pedestrians.  The younger generation is part of today’s modern world.



The Beijing Hotel, 18 stories, was China’s tallest building in 1975.  Today every major city has real skyscrapers with the world’s tallest soon to open in Shanghai:  the Shanghai World Financial Center, 94 stories, presently under construction and due to open in 2004.  In 1992 Shanghai had 300 high-risers; today it has over 3,000.  And Beijing is following close behind.  In 1975 the city streets and country dirt roads were all narrow; now there are ring roads (freeways) in the cities and superhighways in the countryside, and the road building continues at a hectic pace.  As elsewhere in China, traffic lights are for the timid and certainly not for bicycles or pedestrians.

      Beijing is famous for its more than 3,000 hutongs (narrow allies) where the city population was concentrated in courtyard homes for centuries. Wandering in the hutongs and leading groups on tours through them have always been among my favorite things to do in Beijing.  It has been a way to see China’s past in the present. Now government demolition crews have targeted these architectural treasures, and they have destroyed mile after mile of courtyard homes and shops that once provided owners their only livelihood and were among the capital’s most distinguishing features.  And this building boom has been fueled even more intensely by the city’s preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games

      In Shanghai, Nanjing Road, once a narrow two-lane street running from the Bund into the center of town, has been turned into a street mall, which includes an impressive representation of American food and shopping outlets from McDonald’s to Starbucks, to Macy’s and Shreve Crump and Lowe (1). And the two new museums in Shanghai are spectacular must-see sites:  the Shanghai Museum of Chinese Art and History and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

      Another architectural phenomenon in today’s China is Orange County, where an hour’s drive from Beijing, near the site of the 2008 Olympic Games, a $60 million development of townhouses and luxury estates, along with shops, a community center, and an artificial lake, are in the building stage.


Today you have to go deep into the countryside to see men and women in the gray tunics of the Mao era. The dress in the urban areas is western—even to extremes like miniskirts. Business suits including neckties have replaced the Mao tunics both for Communist Party officials and for businessmen. Students wear blue jeans and baggy pants. Women use makeup and wear western fashions, but a majority of women still favor slacks. The bar girls go to miniskirt extremes. (I visited bar area with my grandson, and he met a girl with the nickname kouhung, meaning red mouth or lipstick).    (Continue to page 2.)

From the Wall Street Journal, June 11, page B5B:  "One Child Policy:  Certainly adopting from China isn't new.  In the early 1990s, the Chinese government started releasing abandoned babies, mostly girls, for international adoption.  These victims of China's one-child policy are deemed less valuable in a culture that places a high premium on carrying on the family line.  Tradition also mandates that the oldest son takes care of the aging parents; couples with daughters are, in essence, left without a retirement plan.

     "But the number of Chinese adoptees is exploding, and the girls are fast becoming a cultural force outside coastal metropolises.  Last year, 5,053 Chinese infants entered the United States, compared with a mere 330 babies in 1993." 


introduction       page 1        page 2 

     endnotes             biographical notes           bibliography