After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the PRC and the U.S. functioned without official ties for decades. Adversaries in the Cold War, they were on opposing sides of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, further reduced foreign influences. Mail between the two countries was very limited.
The PRC’s split with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s eventually created an opportunity for future talks. In 1972, President Richard Nixon traveled to mainland China, a stunning diplomatic event that began the normalization of relations.
Mao Zedong’s Proclamation of the People’s Republic of China tenth-anniversary cover, China, 1959
This tenth-anniversary stamp recalls the moment in 1949 when Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People's Republic of China in Tiananmen Square. The square became a massive meeting place.
Tiananmen Gate fifteenth-anniversary souvenir sheet, China, 1964
Crowds celebrate the PRC's fifteenth anniversary outside Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, in these 8-fen stamps, produced in continuous design without vertical perforation.
8f Map of China with design error single, China, 1968
The most famous rarity of the Cultural Revolution proclaims “the entire nation is red.” But Taiwan is white, a fact that caused the stamp’s hasty withdrawal. Very few examples survive.
Loan courtesy Gerald Weiner
8f Vietnam and Anti-Imperialist United States single, China, 1965
China and the United States were on opposite sides in the Vietnam War. These Chinese stamps depict North Vietnamese soldiers and workers heroically and denounce America's role, just seven years before Nixon visited China.
8f Mao Support of African Americans single, China, 1968
Mao quotations and poems appeared frequently on stamps during the Cultural Revolution. This one indicates his support for the struggle of African Americans, casting U.S. imperialism as the common enemy.
"China: A Whole New Game," Time magazine, April 26, 1971
In 1971, the American table tennis team visited the People's Republic in response to a surprise invitation. This episode of “ping-pong diplomacy” preceded Nixon's 1972 visit.
"President Nixon's China Visit," TV Guide magazine, February 19 to 25, 1972
In this playful illustration, President Nixon crosses the Great Wall toward chief Chinese diplomat Zhou Enlai. Nixon's visit to China and meeting with Mao Zedong began the countries' modern relationship.
Giant Panda stamps, China, 1973
After the Nixon visit, China sent two giant pandas, considered national treasures, to the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. Hugely popular, eighteen-month-old Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling arrived in April 1972 to “pandamonium.”
Watch the Smithsonian National Zoological Park’s Panda Cam
Exhibitions of Chinese Art souvenir card, 1980
Nixon’s visit opened the door for cultural exchanges and enrichment. Symbols of Chinese entrance gate and the Great Wall mix with symbols of San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City.