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The “Propaganda State” and Sino-American Rapprochement: Preparing the Chinese Public for Nixon’s Visit *

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Studies of Sino-American rapprochement in 1972 have not sufficiently explored how the Chinese public, which had been taught to hate the American “imperialists,” learned (or was instructed) about the dramatic change. By analyzing Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) and Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News), an internal (neibu) newspaper circulated only among Chinese Communist Party cadres, this article examines how the Chinese government prepared the party and its people for rapprochement from 1969 through 1971. Reference News kept cadres posted about Washington’s overtures, Nixon’s expressed wish to visit China, and Mao’s willingness to receive him, among other items not shared with the wider public. Before official exchanges were agreed, the Chinese government conducted “people-to-people diplomacy” by inviting American “friends” and displaying them to the Chinese public through banquets, receptions, and ceremonies. People’s Daily, which offered intensive coverage to these visitors, was particularly important in promoting the atmosphere of friendship. Party leaders did not need the approval of the public and party workers, but they did take their response into account in making foreign policy, especially on dramatic changes. By evaluating the Chinese communication system and its handling of public opinion on relations with the United States, this article presents a more nuanced picture of the “propaganda state.”

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