Dean Nichols: Zhou Enlai's Famous Saying Debunked

Roundup: Talking About History

Dean Nichols is a writer for History Today.

...During Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing in 1972, the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, was asked about the impact of the French Revolution. Speaking of an event that took place nearly two centuries previously, Zhou famously commented that it was "too early to say". The witticism quickly became a standard way of emphasising the Chinese ability to take the long view in history.

Yet it seems that Zhou may not have correctly understood the question. Rather than referring to the 1789 revolution, his interlocuter was speaking of the events of May 1968, and the Chinese leader's comment was directed toward those far more recent developments. As reported in the Financial Times, a diplomat present at the time called it a misunderstanding that was "too delicious to invite correction"....

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