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Today in history: Nixon's world-changing trip to China
In 1972, President Nixon arrived in China for a historic visit. Three years later, on the same date, two of his cabinet members were sentenced to prison for Watergate.
President Nixon shakes hands with Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong on Feb. 21, 1972.
President Nixon shakes hands with Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong on Feb. 21, 1972. Keystone/Getty Images

Feb. 21, 1972: In what was arguably the most dramatic trip ever taken by a president of the United States, Richard Nixon arrived in China for an eight-day visit. The announcement that Nixon, a lifelong hardline anti-communist, would visit China stunned the world. The United States and China had been foes for a quarter-century, but Nixon recognized the need for better ties — which would also help the U.S. in its Cold War standoff with the Soviet Union. During his week-long visit, Nixon met with Mao and Zhou En-Lai; it is seen today as the beginning of China's drive to modernize and enter the modern world. China's economy is now the world's second largest, trailing only that of the U.S itself. Nixon called it "the week that changed the world," and the phrase "Nixon going to China" has since become a metaphor for an unexpected or uncharacteristic action by a politician.

Feb. 21, 1975: John Mitchell, the former attorney general during the Nixon administration, was sentenced to two and a half to eight years in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. Former Nixon White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and presidential counsel John Ehrlichman were also sentenced to two and a half to eight years.

Quote of the day

"I never took a dollar. I had somebody else do it." –Richard Nixon (as recalled by Alexander Haig)


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