Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert L. Nichols
NICHOLS: A very interesting thing happened while I was there in 1968. I had absolutely no idea that anything was going on at that time regarding a change in our relationship with China, but I was very disturbed because we, as a communications agency, and the Voice of America was a tool of communications, a major medium for our message, and that our main—to use the word—target audience was the people in China, not the people in Taiwan. I was disturbed that we were using language in Chinese that was offensive to the people in China.
NICHOLS: Because it was our policy to do that. Our policy at the time required that we call them Communist China, not the People's Republic of China. We had to call them Zhonggong, and that means Chinese Communists. We didn't call it Beijing; we called it Peiping, which was the nationalist name for Peking, which means “northern peace.” Beijing means “northern capital.” You see, the nationalists never had their capital in Peking; they had it in Nanking and Chungking. So we couldn't call it that. And there was other terminology that we could not use. We had to use the language that Taiwan used in describing the government in China.
Well, I wrote a memo to the State Department about this, and I made my feelings known. I said, “Look, we're trying to communicate with people. If we're not going to have them turn off right at the beginning of our broadcast, then we better start using language that they accept.” This went over to the PRC desk in State. It wasn't called the PRC desk, the People's Republic desk, in those days; it was called the Communist China desk, the deputy director of which was an old colleague of mine, Dick Donald, who has now passed away. Dick had worked with me in Hong Kong. He said, “I like your memo. This is good. I'm going to pass it on up.”
Well, it went up to Bill Bundy, who was then the assistant secretary. By gosh, in a week, I got approval to use the proper terms on our broadcast, except when I was directly quoting Secretary Rusk, who always said “Communist China” and always said “Peiping.” But otherwise, unless I was directly quoting an American official, I could use the proper terminology.
Q: A kind of turning point, then. To what extent did the State Department pay attention to the Chinese broadcasts, use them, control them, be concerned about them?
NICHOLS: They were concerned about them. They didn't control them. They would look over some of the commentaries we were putting out. I worked with them quite closely, because I had a lot of colleagues in State with whom I had gone through Chinese language training.