Mon, Mar 25, 2019 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik, Jr. On Taiwan: Mao Zedong’s ‘warlord’ jokes

Four decades ago, in September 1979, when I entered duty on the State Department’s “Taiwan Coordination Staff,” my departing predecessor pointed me to a stack of black loose-leaf binders in the political officer’s massive Mosler safe. They contained the Kissinger China transcripts and, at the time, were labeled “top secret.” I was to educate myself on all the airy promises and vague commitments about Taiwan which American and Chinese leaders had more-or-less pledged to each other since 1971. I was to return the binders to the China desk when I had finished with them. Although my previous post was the US Liaison Office in “Peking,” I had never been privy to the Kissinger transcripts before. They were a revelation.

I had never read top secret documents larded with such humor and wry punch lines as the October 21, 1975 “memorandum of conversation” between American Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and China’s “Chairman Mao Tse-tung” (毛澤東). It has, therefore, always stuck in my memory. The funniest parts dealt with Taiwan. [https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v18/d124]

So, to set the scene, I should explain that Chairman Mao literally was on his deathbed, his voice frail, his movements weak, he would succumb within a year; and he was mindful of mortality, heaven, and God.

At 6:25pm that evening, as Secretary Kissinger and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) entered his chamber with small entourages and a photographer, the Chairman unsteadily assumed a standing pose. When the flashbulbs ceased, he allowed himself to be eased into an overstuffed armchair. A White House stenographer, Ms. Anne Boddicker, recorded that “The Chairman would either speak with great difficulty,” with his two top interpreters first repeating Mao’s exact Chinese words for his nod before rendering them to English, “or he would write down his remarks on a note pad held by his nurse.” There is no doubt then, that the words Ms. Boddicker heard were Mao’s own and were interpreted with precision. Mao seemed able even to correct the interpreters; at one point, the Chairman jotted down “we have common opponents” in English, a linguistic feat that so astounded Secretary Kissinger that he asked to have the handwritten note. The Chairman obliged, “(He hands over the note he had written out)” writes Ms. Boddicker.

The Chairman had started off the exchange by disclosing, “You know I have various ailments all over me. I am going to heaven soon.” Secretary Kissinger hoped “not soon.” “Soon,” Mao insisted, “I’ve already received an invitation from God.” After a few minutes of badinage, Mao accused Kissinger of seeking to get to Moscow on China’s “shoulders.” Kissinger protested, “we have nothing to gain in Moscow.” Mao countered, “you can gain Taiwan of China.” Ms. Boddicker noted parenthetically: “(He begins coughing and the nurse comes in to help him.)”

For a few minutes, it was a dialogue of the deaf before Mao sharply exclaimed, “it’s better for it [Taiwan] to be in your hands, if you were to send it back to me now, I would not want it, because it is not wantable. There are a bunch of counter-revolutionaries there.” Mao opined that it may take a century, but thereafter “we will want it.”

Kissinger didn’t seem prepared for this expostulation and tried to interject “not a hundred years.” The Chairman cut him off. “It’s hard to say.” According to Ms. Boddicker, the Chairman then pointed toward the ceiling, and blurted “And when I go to heaven to see God, I’ll tell him it’s better to have Taiwan under the care of the United States now.”

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