Since copies of the text will not be available to we mortals on the Northwest for another week or more — even those of us with Japan connections in the form of a Kinokuniya Bookstore — it might be useful to review for a moment some of the former Harvard professor, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State in his writings on China.
And thus to musical diplomacy!
Thanks to his extensive briefing books (which are available to researchers in the Nixon Presidential Library materials currently housed in Washington, D.C., and which I have consulted), during his trip to China in October 1971, Kissinger was supremely attuned to messages intended for him in cultural shows presented to him by the Chinese Communist government. Thus his attendance at “The White Haired Girl” by the CCP, a revolutionary ballet performed by the Central Ballet Company of China, merits a bit of analysis.
The White Haired Girl (Bai Mao Nü, 白毛努) tells the story of the suffering life of a peasant girl who is saved from a life of servitude by the revolutionary leader. This sought after story had been portrayed in the movie before the ballet and was extremely effective in provoking hatred feelings to the old system. The government was impressed by the impact of the movie, like many others, the CCP artists sought to transform this most moving story into the other artistic sphere of ballet. However, in his memoirs concerning this performance (White House Years, p. 779), Kissinger panned the opera:
On the evening of October 22 we were taken to the Great Hall of the People to see a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera — an art form of truly stupefying boredom in which villains were the incarnation of evil and wore black, good guys wore red, and as far as I could make out the girl fell in love with a tractor.
Now that is an acid pen!
Of course, at the time, he was highly complementary to the CCP leaders about the show and even described its message in some detail in his dispatches debriefing Richard Nixon about the trip.
Later, Kissinger would open the way to a trip by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China in September 1973, which itself was the result of Zhou Enlai’s victory in the internal debate with Jiang Qing, over the role that Beethoven should play in the musical and ideological life of the Chinese elites in Beijing and Shanghai. Kissinger describes the action iduring his fifth visit to China in February 1973 in his Years of Upheaval, p. 45.
Of course, when Zhou Enlai is saying things like the following to Kissinger directly, recalling the failed attempt on the Chinese Premiere’s life in 1955 on his way to Bandung, it is hard to imagine that he also had energy to take on the cultural bureaucrats in Shanghai, but he did:
As for international hijacking, we do not approve those activities. It’s too unreasonable. Such adventurous acts are not a good practice, regardless of the motives behind it, whether it is revolutionary or of a saboteur nature. I say these not as superfluous words but to explain how people of the world think of the CIA. As for we ourselves, we are not very much excited by the CIA..[Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, 21 October 1971, Beijing, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976, Vol. XVII, pp. 503-504.]