Looking Back, Looking Forward: Commemorating 40 Years of U.S.-China Relations

“What is a road? It is something trampled out of a place where once there was no road; it is made from a place where once there were only brambles and thickets.”
Lu Xun

Officials and citizens in the United States and the People’s Republic of China had no pre-ordained path to follow as they sought to establish diplomatic relations in the 1970s. It was not certain then that we would embark on a relationship highlighted by engagement in the decades that followed. Nonetheless, a pathway was forged through the wilderness that has become wider and more well-trodden than anyone could have ever imagined when formal diplomatic relations were established on January 1, 1979. Indeed, engagement between our countries has gone from something that was carefully managed, high-level, and rare to an occurrence so frequent in business, science, academia, politics, tourism, and everyday life that we often take it for granted. The road created by our predecessors—while not wholly smooth, rarely straight, and at times challenging to travel—has contributed to prosperity for the people of both countries, and the whole world, through exchange of people, ideas, information, culture, and commerce.

Today, the future path of our bilateral relationship is also uncertain. The road we choose to create will be hugely consequential for the people of the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and the world. We owe it to our contemporaries and to those who will come after us to proceed in a way that honors the magnitude of that potential, even while we remain attentive to protecting the ideals and interests of our respective countries.

The images in this exhibition, curated by Meridian International Center with support from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, exemplify many aspects of engagement between our countries. I hope that visitors to it will not only reflect upon the past, but also ponder what photographs we might display another 40 years from now on the 80th anniversary of our formal diplomatic relations. The possibilities are almost endless. The brambles and thickets await our best efforts.

Dan Murphy
Executive Director
Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Harvard China Fund
Harvard University

President Richard Nixon meets with Chairman Mao Zedong, 1972
Courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum







此次展览由默里迪恩国际中心(Meridian International Center)在美国驻华大使馆的支持下策划。展出的图像体现了我们两国间交往的诸多方面。我希望它不仅能让观众回顾过去,还能让人思考四十年后,即两国正式建交八十周年之际我们能展示什么样的照片。可能性近乎无限。前路荆棘,有待我们踔力开拓。