What's the source of the adage: Only Nixon could go to China

I’m assuming that the adage existed before the Star Trek movie. Who is credited with the phrase?

I search Google, but there were too many references to it and not enough info.

I am not sure your premise is correct. I doubt that Spok was the first person ever to notice that it would have been a far more contentious effort for a Democrat, or even a moderate to suggest opening up relations with a Communist country, or making an official State Visit to a reigning Authoritarian Communist government. However, I don’t think it had reached the level of “an adage” by that point. The intent of the line in the movie is that it was a significant event in our history, and as such is remembered by the historians of the future, despite the facts of Watergate.


“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” ~ Albert Einstein ~

I hate to pick nits, but I would say that the intent of the line in the movie is to get a laugh. If you’ll recall, Spock’s actual statement (as quoted at IMDb) is:


My .02

I think it was because of Nixon’s hard stance on Communism, that allowed him to go there without any fear of being labeled “Commie” or some such. everyone knew he wouldn’t sell us to the Chineese.

Unlike Clinton. :smiley:

That’s exactly right. Nixon had established credentials as an anti-communist, and therefore had the political leeway to open up a dialogue with China.

In the same way, Ronald Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ rhetoric allowed him to sign agreements with the Soviets to eliminate theater nuclear weapons. Had a Democratic president tried that, he would have been savaged by the right.

Remember the context of the movie - Spock’s point was that Kirk was a hard-line anti-Klingon, and therefore a good choice to be an ambassador to them.

More precisely, because of his major role in McCarthy’s HUAAC, it was almost impossible to label him as “soft on communism” as the would have been done to other people.

“Only Nixon can go to China” was already a reasonably common saying before Star Trek VI (which came out in 1991). I remember people saying it. Indeed, there would have been no humor to Spock saying “There’s an old Vulcan proverb which says that only Nixon can go to China” if it hadn’t been moderately well known before that. The movie certainly increased its popularity though.

Fascinating. I always understood that quote very differently than all of you. I never took it to mean that if someone else had tried to go to China he would not have been able to do so.

Rather, if someone else had gone to China, it would not have been taken seriously. It would have been perceived as a low-level diplomat on a fishing expedition; it would not have acheived the goal of initiating a real relationship between the two countries. But by having the anti-Communist US President go, the trip had more credibility than could be hoped for by any other means. And that was the Star Trek connection: By having Kirk make the overtures to the Klingons, it would be taken very seriously.

A few seconds after that scene in the movie, I (;j) adapted it to my own personal tastes: Only Sadat could have gone to Israel.

I don’t think level has anything to do with the point of the quote. There WERE previous lower-level contacts, and they WERE taken seriously (by the US and the PRC): the ping-pong exchange, Kissinger’s secret visit. As stated above, the meaning is really that only an anti-communist like Nixon could have the domestic political credibility among the American right to cozy up to Communist China.