By Paul Musgrave


Except for its name, there was little remarkable about the modest library that stood in the neighborhood of Yuen Long on the outskirts of Hong Kong from 1954 until 1977. It held only a few thousand books and employed just one librarian, and its patrons were mostly schoolchildren, farmers, and shopkeepers. Nevertheless, the humble building was a monument to Richard Nixon. The library was also a relic of the creation of Nixon’s reputation as an expert in foreign affairs, the cornerstone of his campaigns for the White House and his defenders’ view of his administration. It began in large measure with his world travels as Vice President, including infamous trips to Latin America in 1958 (where he faced violent pro-Communist mobs) and the Soviet Union in 1959 (where he dueled with Nikita Khrushchev). Those trips, however, might not have happened without his first, successful tour of Asia and the Middle East in 1953—a story told in the records at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Just 40 years old, Nixon had been Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President for only a few months when, at a National Security Council meeting in March 1953, Eisenhower asked him to take a major trip through Asia later that year. Decades later, Nixon implausibly asserted that Eisenhower sent Nixon instead of going himself because the President knew little about the region. At the time, he declared instead that the President intended to show Asian leaders that the new administration took their concerns more seriously than had Dean Acheson, President Truman’s secretary of state. More persuasively, Stephen Ambrose, a biographer of both Nixon and Eisenhower, argues that
Opposite: Chinese students and others pose before the Nixon Library in Yuen Long, Hong Kong, in 1957. Local Jaycees named the neighborhood library after the U.S. Vice President upon his visit there in November 1953. Right: Beatrice H. Holt, a USIA librarian in Hong Kong, visited the Nixon Library in Yuen Long in 1955 to celebrate the agency’s donation of 160 books. USIA publications are on the table.

the President wanted his Vice President to be “publicly associated with something other than Red-baiting.” Changing Nixon’s image would be a challenge. He owed his extraordinary political climb from freshman congressman to Vice President in six years almost entirely to his aggressive anticommunism. He had won his seats in the House in 1946 and the Senate in 1950 by charging that his opponents were soft, at the very least, on Communists, and he had become nationally prominent in 1948 through his public investigation of former FDR aide and alleged Soviet spy Alger Hiss. But, as Nixon must have recognized, presidential candidates needed to be associated with more substantive matters. The trip offered Nixon a chance to reinvent himself as a statesman. Just as impor-

tant, it would allow him to transform the position of Vice President—long regarded as a political dead end—into a high-profile post. His plans for the trip were accordingly ambitious. Starting on October 5, he and his party, which included his wife, Pat, would spend more than two months abroad and visit 19 countries, as well as Hong Kong (then a British colony) and the U.S.-administered Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, none of which had ever received a visit from an American President or Vice President before. The announcement of the tour triggered a flood of invitations, including one from Arnaldo de Oliveira Sales, an ethnic Portuguese businessman who was president of the Hong Kong Junior Chamber of Commerce. Nixon accepted, partly because he was a former Jaycee himself

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(indeed, he made a point of including Jaycee representatives in many of the countries he visited) but more importantly because the club, composed of civicminded businessmen, would be a safely pro-American audience. Nixon used invitations like Sales’s strategically. He would later boast that he had forced the State Department to schedule events where he could meet “as many different kinds of people as possible”—students, workers, and intellectuals as well as politicians and government officials. In practice, the events ran more like campaign rallies than state visits. At one point, halfway through the trip, a frustrated Nixon instructed his administrative assistant Rose Mary Woods and other aides in his party that “I want crowds at the airports—want the schedules to be printed in the newspapers—insist on this!” He took an intense interest in the media as well, requesting special arrangements for a Life magazine photographer so that he could take pictures “which will properly characterize the trip” and telling his aides to let the press know that the locals had been impressed that Nixon shook hands

with them. (The latter effort succeeded: Time soon printed a glowing quote from an “accompanying official” explaining that Nixon “create[d] a sensation” when he shook hands with “dumbfounded spectators” along his parade routes.) There were few causes for such complaints in Hong Kong. Nixon’s arrival on November 5 was dramatic—indeed, spectacular. His Air Force Lockheed Constellation was escorted by 12 Royal Air Force Vampire fighter jets as it approached the runway of Kai Tak Airport, which jutted into Victoria Harbor. At the airport, the Americans received a 19-gun salute and an official greeting. Nixon broke away briefly from the official itinerary to shake hands with some members of the public who had come to greet him. Hong Kong was not the most prominent stop on Nixon’s trip; he had far more important diplomatic errands to attend to on other legs of his journey (including delivering messages from Eisenhower to South Korea and Taiwan to refrain from unilaterally starting wars), and his

words in other cities would attract much greater media attention (including those from his brief layover in Hawaii, where he made a strong statement in favor of statehood for the territory). But Hong Kong’s status as a British colony and its sheer proximity to mainland China made it inherently significant. The combination of those issues made for a knotty diplomatic problem. As Nixon moved through his schedule on November 5 and 6, he heard criticisms of the Chinese Communists, but he also faced complaints about the American ban
Richard Nixon visited the library named after him in 1966, as reported in a local newspaper. He applauded the local Jaycees’ educational efforts and promised that more books would be provided by the United States Information Service.

A delegation of visitors at the Nixon Library in Hong Kong in 1965.

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on trade with the People’s Republic of China, which had crippled Hong Kong’s economy. Strong statements by Nixon against the “Peking regime” could thus backfire, as the capitalists in the colony strongly hoped to hear that they could resume their historical role as the front door to the Chinese markets. Such concerns weighed on Nixon’s mind on the morning of November 7 as he prepared his remarks for that day’s Jaycee luncheon at the Peninsula Hotel, which had become the venue for what was billed as the major policy address of his visit. He surely discussed the dilemma with the
Left: Snowpine Liu, the Nixon Library representative, maintained contact with Nixon through the years. In his March 16, 1968, letter he congratulated candidate Nixon on his victory in the New Hampshire primary. Right: Liu was photographed with the President and administrative assistant Rose Mary Woods during his visit to the Oval Office on February 7, 1969.

colony’s governor, Alexander Grantham, in a private meeting that morning. Sometime that morning, either as a result of his talks with Grantham and others or as a product of his own substantial political instincts, Nixon hit on a formula to paper over the difficulties. He delivered it at the luncheon before an audience of 500. After an introduction by Sales, Nixon took his audience on a tour d’horizon of American foreign policy, arguing that its foundation was “peace” and that Washington must maintain a leading role in the United Nations. Essential to the success of that policy and the victory of the free nations was the strong alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom, which was helping to defend Hong Kong and its freedoms.The other half of the Nixon formula was simply to ignore the trade issue. It was not the subtlest solution, but the American consul general wrote in his official report that the largely British audience almost

universally accepted it anyway—and that Nixon’s conversation with Grantham had a calming effect on the governor’s later public statements about the embargo. As a good host, Sales had arranged for gifts for the Vice President (an ivory elephant) and Mrs. Nixon (an embroidered dress length). As he presented them to the Nixons, Sales announced that the Vice President had just given him permission to have the Jaycees’ next children’s library named after him. The library, under construction in Yuen Long, was the 11th to be built by Jaycees, which had made a project of providing for underprivileged children around the colony. Nixon could hardly have refused the offer, since during the speech he had praised the Jaycees and the Rotarians (who were cosponsoring the luncheon) for their local projects helping young people, which he said contributed to international peace.

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Back in Hong Kong, work proceeded on over the library’s fundraising and operaThe Nixons left the luncheon and spent some time traveling around the colony the addition to the building in Yuen Long tions. Liu, who had attended American unibefore an evening reception. They left the that was to hold the future Nixon Library. versities and had taught in Chinese schools, next morning and rejoined the rest of their It was dedicated on February 28, 1954, asked Nixon for help in obtaining a visa to tour, which had more than a month left to and Nixon sent Sales a telegram to be read the United States. There is no response to run and which included meetings with, at the ceremony: “There is nothing that that request in the files, but Nixon’s office among others, the emperor of Japan, the gives me more pleasure than to have my corresponded with Liu over the next prime minister of India, and the shah of Iran. name associated with your new children’s decade. From time to time, Nixon made They returned to Washington on December library. . . . I can think of no factor more small but significant financial contributions to the library, which (with the 14 to an elaborate welcoming Richard Nixon Elementary ceremony at National Airport, School in his hometown of followed by a formal call on Yorba Linda, California) was President Eisenhower at the one of the few institutions to White House. bear his name. He also sent The press reaction was all the library a copy of a biograthat Nixon could have hoped phy, This Is Nixon, by refor. The favorable editorials porter James Keogh, who later around the country filled became President Nixon’s two folders in his files and head speechwriter. included positive comments After losing the 1960 presifrom the Washington Post, dential campaign to John Philadelphia Inquirer, WashKennedy and the 1962 ington Star, and New York California gubernatorial elHerald Tribune, which wrote ection to Pat Brown, Nixon that Nixon’s trip proved that moved to New York City to he “could speak with knowlbecome the lead partner in a edge and precise familiarity major law firm. Part of with the President’s ideas Nixon’s work with the firm and projects” because “no involved traveling around the previous Vice-President has world to meet with clients, a been brought so intimately convenient reason for the forinto the highest counsels of mer Vice President to keep the administration in power.” himself in the public eye by Nixon topped off the making pronouncements on rounds of congratulations a foreign policy at home and week later with a television abroad. He made several such and radio address. He talked passes through Hong Kong, about American interests in meeting with Liu on three the region, not least the occasions and visiting the Korean peninsula, and the Plans for expansion and relocation of the Nixon Library in 1969 raised security concerns importance of American diplo- that it would become a high visibility target five miles from the Chinese mainland. Henry library himself in 1966. In February 1969, just macy, instead of American mili- Kissinger advised in his April 19, 1969, memo (page 1 here) that the library be moved to three weeks into Nixon’s tary power, to making pro- the Yuen Long town hall, to which President Nixon agreed. presidency, Liu called on the gress with the peoples and governments of the countries he had visit- important to a free, independent, and President in the Oval Office, where they ed. The core of his argument was that the prosperous Asia than the opportunity for met and talked about the library’s future. United States had to continue to resist the the youth of Asia to learn the truth, untar- Liu proposed raising funds to expand the library and give it a permanent, independexpansion of Communism, especially that nished by Communist propaganda.” A local notable named Tang Kin Sun and a ent home. Nixon was noncommittal, but of the Chinese Communists, whom he called “the basic cause of all of our trou- volunteer named Snowpine Liu, a Liu enthusiastically began soliciting Nationalist refugee from the mainland, took donors by telling them the President supbles in Asia.”

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ported the plan, which alarmed lowerlevel officials. The U.S. Information Agency, which had informally supported the library for some time, argued instead for moving the library into the Yuen Long town hall, then under construction. Such a move, USIA director and longtime Nixon associate Frank Shakespeare argued, would bolster American standing in Hong Kong while also denying “a high visibility target five miles from the Chinese mainland for Leftist [protesters].” The State Department later chimed in with its own concerns that Liu had been seeking donations from individuals tied to the Nationalist government on the island of Taiwan, which the department worried could cause “very considerable embarrassment” to the United States by politicizing what had formerly been a politically neutral cultural organization. In classic Nixon administration style, the issue was staffed out, and the unlikely bureaucratic vehicle for resolving the controversy over the future of the reading room was the National Security Council under the direction of Henry Kissinger. In an April 1969 memorandum, Kissinger summarized the options: leaving the library in place, providing funds to transfer it to the Yuen Long town hall, or committing the U.S. government to raising $100,000 to build the new, independent library building. Kissinger, echoing the State Department and USIA, recommended moving the library to the town hall; President Nixon agreed, and directed that USIA inform Liu of his decision. (Ironically, Kissinger later complained that bureaucratic politics tended to produce options papers that narrowed the scope for presidential decision-making by presenting “two absurd alternatives as straw men bracketing [the bureaucracy’s] preferred option—which usually appears in the middle position.”) Liu backed off from his independent proposal, and the library was moved into the Yuen Long town hall. In June 1971, Shakespeare met with Nixon in the Oval Office and discussed an inspection tour of USIA facilities in East

Asia. During the meeting, which was captured on the Nixon taping system, Shakespeare told Nixon that he had visited the Nixon Library. “I went in there and there must have been 150 young children quietly reading,” Shakespeare told the President. “You know, if you went to a library where there are American kids, there’s always that little hubbub of noise and students shooting spitballs. Those Chinese kids are amazing. They sat there and you couldn’t hear a sound. . . . It’s attractive, it’s well decorated, it’s light, it’s airy, and it’s very well used.” Nixon murmured his approval. Soon thereafter, the administration— engrossed successively by the opening to mainland China, the reelection campaign

of 1972, and then the mounting pressures of Watergate—could no longer afford the luxury of taking an interest in the Hong Kong institution. The library’s end came, unnoticed, in 1978 when its collection was transferred to the Yuen Long municipal government and became the core of the Yuen Long Public Library. At the same time, Nixon was drafting his memoirs and preparing to embark on a broader project of rehabilitating his reputation based on his mastery of foreign affairs, a topic he discussed in the memoirs. It was as a result of the 1953 trip through Hong Kong and the rest of Asia, Nixon wrote, “that I knew that foreign policy was a field in which I had great interest and at least some ability.” P

The principal sources for the linked stories of the Nixon Library in Hong Kong and the Vice Presidential career of Richard Nixon are the pre-presidential files in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. The vice presidential trip files and correspondence files, including many otherwise difficult-to-find media clippings (such as the JCI World, a newsletter of the international Jaycees), document Nixon’s relationship with Arnaldo de Oliveira Sales and Snowpine Liu in the 1950s as well as visits to the library by Nixon associates, such as Henry Kearns, assistant secretary of commerce for Eisenhower and later Nixon’s head of the Export-Import Bank. Newspaper and magazine coverage of the 1953 trip includes Time, “Names Make News,” November 16, 1953, and “By the old Pegu Pagoda,” December 7, 1953; “Good Will in Asia,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 15, 1953; “Here Comes the Traveler,” Washington Star, December 15, 1953; “Mr. Nixon Reports,” Washington Post, December 25, 1953; and “Mr. Nixon Returns,” New York Herald Tribune, December 15, 1953. Other sources include Tzu Jan Jih Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper whose coverage of Nixon’s trip, along with other papers’, was translated by the State Department and included in the trip files. The newly processed “Wilderness Years” collection, also in Yorba Linda, are indispensable for tracing the reconstruction of Nixon’s political career and reputation as a statesman during the years between his defeat by Pat Brown in the 1962 California gubernatorial race and his triumphal victory in the 1968 presidential campaign. The file includes other clippings on Nixon’s trips, including “Get to Know the U.S. Better, Nixon urges” from the Hong Kong Standard. The construction of Nixon’s image as an expert in world affairs is treated by his biographers, including Stephen Ambrose in Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913–1962 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987) and David Greenberg in Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003). Nixon’s memoirs (RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon [New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978]) cover his relationship with foreign policy and with Eisenhower while Henry Kissinger’s reflections on his time with Nixon (White House Years [Boston: Little, Brown, 1979]) offer an insider’s selected views on the foreign policy machinery of the administration. The administration’s files on national security and foreign policy are virtually all, for the moment, in the Nixon Library at College Park, Maryland; much of the material on the Hong Kong Nixon Library and Snowpine Liu, including copies of State Department, National Security Council, and U.S. Information Agency memoranda, is available in the formerly confidential special files. The taped Author conversation between Nixon and Frank Shakespeare is number 527-8 from June 22, 1971. Paul Musgrave is special The proceedings of the Hong Kong Legislative assistant to the director of the Council are available online at www.legco. Richard Nixon Presidential; the reference to the consolidation of the Library and Museum in Yorba Nixon Library with the Yuen Long town hall Linda, California, and a Ph.D. comes from the question time of Wednesday, student in government at Georgetown University January 25, 1978. in Washington, D.C.

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