With China and Russia on our minds today, I thought I’d look back in The New Yorker archives to see what I could find. I lived through part of the Russian Cold War, and Nixon’s visit to China (1972). The Cold War was a long thing, of course, but I do remember the year Nixon visited China, it was quite a big deal. If I could make a comparison, it would be like if Biden visited North Korea next week. China was such a mystery to us Americans (much more than now); the visit ended a 25 year span of lack of communication or diplomatic ties between the two countries.
I went back to see if The New Yorker printed any cartoons about that historic trip. In the first few issues I checked, in February of 1972, there was nothing. I expected to see a drawing on Nixon’s escapade by either James Stevenson or Dana Fradon, two artists who were known for their political drawings in The New Yorker. I saw this drawing below, looked at it and thought, what are they drinking? It’s a funny, subtle drawing by James Stevenson—but exactly why are these two conservative businessmen toasting in tiny glasses? They look like little vodka shots— but Nixon went to China, not the USSR (I was to travel to the USSR in 1976 as a student, and recall the little glasses, although I did not partake in the vodka).
Convinced Stevenson intended more meaning, I did some more online looking.
Almost immediately, I found this.
So in his drawing, Stevenson expressed what many were feeling at the time: we were toasting with China and this is probably a good thing. I adore the simplicity of content of his drawing, and how it works as commentary, but also as just a funny drawing.
Nixon will go down in history for being a crook, but also for re-establishing relations with China in 1972. Still communist, China has since become a capitalist hybrid. At the invitaion of the China Women’s Film Festival, I traveled to Bejing in 2018, to speak at universities, museums and women’s groups about women’s rights and cartoons. I did some live drawings while there. Currently, an exhibit drawings from my book, Very Funny Ladies, is touring in China (and they want to create merchandise!). Diplomacy through cartoons is the best kind.
While reading about why Xi Jinping went to Russia, I did not find any photos of them toasting in little glasses. According to Xi Jinping, it was a peace keeping mission, but that meeting was about something we are still unclear of.
Below is a drawing I did during my visit to the USSR in 1976 during college. The Soviet Union was not the communist capitalist hybrid we see currently in China. I am not sure how to characterize Russia, it’s not particularly communist in the Lenin/Marxist model, although I bet Putin would like to return to that. While in the USSR, I did not see anyone wearing a dress with a Lenin design. It was an effort on my part to show how pervasive Lenin was in the culture at the time. He was everywhere.
At some point, I will write about my trip to the USSR and share all the drawings. It was incredible and eye-opening, and perhaps the beginning of my live-drawing passion.
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Fascinating to see that your Lenin drawing was done in Kyiv.