'Our performances were not that revolutionary': Shanghai acrobat recounts Nixon's China Visit in 1972
Published: Feb 28, 2022 01:33 AM
Editor's Note:

2022 marks the 50th anniversary of President Nixon's visit to China and the issuance of the Shanghai Communiqué, the first joint communiqué issued by China and the United States, which established the guidelines for the development of bilateral relations, especially the one-China principle. It has become the political foundation for the normalization of China-US relations and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Global Times interviewed five Chinese witnesses based in Shanghai recalling their role in the visit by Nixon five decades ago.

Here is the story of Zhou Liangtie, the first acrobat to perform for the US delegation on February 27, 1972.

Zhou Liangtie Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Zhou Liangtie Photo: Chen Xia/GT

Born in 1949, Zhou Liangtie was a young acrobat in Shanghai in 1972. His name and the performance Build up our physique, defend the motherland appeared on the top of the show on February 27 prepared for the visiting US President Richard Nixon. Although a total of 12 acrobats performed together in the program, Zhou played the stellar role. 

As the Chinese saying goes, "One minute on stage, three years off stage," Zhou and his peers practiced day and night for the show. It was not only an art performance, but also a political task. They made every effort to improve their martial arts and other skills. 

On January 7, a rehearsal was arranged in front of Alexander Haig, the then Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs of the US, who was with a preparatory mission in China to make logistical arrangements for President Nixon's visit the following month.

Zhou recalled that they kept waiting until 9:30 pm when the rehearsal officially started.

"Previously, we were joking about the reason why Haig was late. Maybe because the food was too delicious," Zhou told the Global Times on Thursday. "When I was performing, I could hear my colleague whispering at a corner of the stage reminding me to be courageous and to be bolder. But I did not make it, I was disappointed with myself."

In the month following Haig's inspection, Zhou practiced harder and on February 25, all acrobats were asked to stay together in a nearby hotel to concentrate on the show on February 27, the day before the departure of the US delegation from China.

Then, came the night. All hard work paid off. A lot of limelight and applauses.

Zhou said that he had a successful but not perfect performance that night in front of the US president and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai as "flaws do not hide beauty."

Other acrobats played with the diabolo, performed balancing feats like pole climbing and trick cycling, balanced bowls and spring-board stunts, and traditional Chinese magic.

"Our performances were not as 'revolutionary' as most of other acrobatic performances back then thanks to the flexibility Premier Zhou gave to Shanghai," Zhou recalled, adding that keeping some traditional elements in acrobatics at that time was not an easy job. It was an era of the more revolutionary, the better.

"Following Nixon's visit, we added back more traditional elements in our performance to replace the revolutionary elements thanks to more diplomatic tasks and premier Zhou's support," Zhou said.

Chinese acrobatics won more and more international reputation with the help of reports by international media and Nixon's ice-breaking visit. Acrobatic troupes in Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, and Shanghai were invited to perform in the US, Europe and Japan in 1970s.

Zhou was proud to tell media that the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe was the first in China to start commercial performances, which guaranteed the sustenance of the troupe and all the acrobats.