In the Works: Meridian’s Upcoming Exhibition on U.S.-China Relations

President Jimmy Carter, President Richard Nixon, and Vice Premier Deng 1979


On January 29, 1979, President Jimmy Carter, President Richard Nixon, and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping commemorated the beginning of a new era in U.S.-China relations, referred to as “normalization,” at an official state dinner here in Washington, D.C. This momentous occasion  ̶  documented in the above photograph  ̶  was a celebration of the endeavors of all three men to put aside political differences, reflect on the nearly 200 years of collective history, and formally renew the friendship that had been equally significant for both countries. This official recognition of the People’s Republic of China by the United States is, however, only one of countless key moments in the Sino-American story that serve as a catalyst for our current political, economic, and cultural engagement. As this relationship continues to evolve, it is important for us to take a look at the moments of peace, and of discord, which form its foundation and use them to make informed decisions about its future.

Meridian International Center, through its Art for Cultural Diplomacy (ACD) program, has unique expertise in highlighting compelling stories about U.S. relations with other countries to develop a new exhibition on the history of U.S.-China relations. This presentation will focus on the notable and little known connections between merchants, missionaries, students, scholars, explorers, musicians, athletes, artists, ambassadors, princes, and presidents who ultimately made a positive impact on the country they visited. Throughout the 230-year-history of the United States, there have been relatively few instances when people in both countries were not somehow interacting on an unofficial and/or official level, and it is the exchanges between 1784 and 1979 that the ACD team hopes to bring to American and Chinese audiences. Our shared narrative is rich with intriguing stories of enterprising individuals who traveled between the two countries, learning from and influencing the people they met, such as Samuel Shaw who sailed on the Empress of China in 1784 and became one of the first Americans to set foot in China or Prince Chen who in 1902 became the first Chinese royal to visit the U.S.

Meridian’s exhibition, along with its ancillary website and related educational activities, is being developed under the auspices of the American-Chinese Cultural Initiative (ACCI) and will be on view both in the U.S. and China starting in late summer 2014. The ACD team is about seven months into the research process, and has thus far collected thousands of related photographs from places like the Library of Congress, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, and the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Over the next few months, we will not only continue to reach out to archival institutions but also begin the stages of crafting the actual exhibition: selecting images, writing labels, designing a catalogue, and so on. Leading up to the debut of the exhibition, we will give you an insider’s look at the development process and previews of exclusive content right here in our blog series titled “In the Works,” so check back periodically to learn more!

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