Libretto list

Nixon in China Libretto

ACT ONE


Scene 1: Nixon’s arrival

(The airfield outside Peking. It is a very cold, clear,                      
dry morning; Monday, February 21, 1972; the air is
full of static electricity. No airplanes are arriving;
there is the odd note of birdsong. Finally, from behind
some buildings, come the sounds of troops marching.
Contingents of army, navy and air force – 120 men of
each service – circle the field and begin to sing "The
Three Main Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points
of Attention")

CHORUS
Soldiers of heaven hold the sky,
the morning breaks and shadows fly.
Follow the orders of the poor,
your master is the laborer
who rules the world with truth and grace.
Deal with him justly, face to face,
pay a fair price for all you buy,
pay to replace what you destroy.
Divide the landlord’s property,
take nothing from the tenantry,
do not mistreat the captive foe.
Respect women, it is their due
replace doors when you leave a house.
Roll up straw matting after use.
The people are the heroes now.
Behemoth pulls the peasant’s plow.
When we look up, the fields are white
with harvest in the morning light
and mountain ranges one by one
rise red beneath the harvest moon.

(A jet is heard approaching, touching down, and
taxiing across the runway. As The Spirit of’76 comes
into view, slowing to a stop, Premier Chou En-lai and
a small group of officials stroll out to meet it, casting
long shadows in the pale yellow light. A ramp is drawn
up to the hatchway. After a pause the door opens and
President Nixon stands in the opening for a instant,
then begins to descend the ramp, closely followed by
the First Lady in her scarlet coat. When the President
reaches the middle of the ramp, Premier Chou begins
to clap and the President stops short and returns the
gesture, according to the Chinese custom. He reaches
the bottom step and extends his right hand as he walks
towards the Premier. They shake hands)

CHOU
Your flight was smooth, I hope?

NIXON
Oh yes,
smoother than usual I guess.
Yes, it was very pleasant.
We stopped in Hawaii for a day
and Guam, to catch up on the time.
It’s easier that way.
The Prime Minister knows about that.
He is such a traveller.

CHOU
No, not I but as a traveller come home
for good to China, one for whom
all travel is a penance now.
I am most proud to welcome you.

(As the rest of the American party disembarks,
the band strikes up. The Premier introduces the
President to the Chinese official entourage,
and together they review the massed ranks of the
honor guard. All heads turn as they pass. While
the introductions are beginning, the President begins
to sing, and, as he sings, the joy of anticipated
triumph becomes the terrible expectation of failure.
The Chinese and American official parties in due
course leave the stage. The brilliant sunshine
dwindles to the light of incandescent lamps. A
telephone rings twice offstage, is picked up offstage.
In a moment Henry Kissinger interrupts the President
to tell him that Chairman Mao wishes to meet with
him)

NIXON
News has a kind of mystery:
when I shook hands with Chou En-lai
on this bare field outside Peking,
just now, the world was listening.

CHOU
May I...

NIXON
Though we spoke quietly
the eyes and ears of history
caught every gesture...

CHOU
... introduce...

NIXON
and every word, transforming us
as we, transfixed...

CHOU
... the Deputy
Minister of Security.

NIXON
... made history.

** Our shaking hands were shaping time.
Each moments stands out sharp and clear. **

CHOU
** ... Army **
May I...

NIXON
On our flight over from Shangai

CHOU
The Minister...

NIXON
... the countryside
looked drab and grey. "Brueghel", Pat said.
"We came in peace for all mankind"
I said, and I was put in mind
of our Apollo astronauts
simply...

CHOU
... of the United States

NIXON
... achieving a great human dream.
We live in an unsettled time.
Who are our enemies?
Who are our friends?
The Eastern Hemisphere beckoned to us,
and we have flown east of the sun,
west of the moon across an ocean of distrust
filled with the bodies of our lost;
the earth’s Sea of Tranquillity.
It’s prime time in the U.S.A.
yesterday night. They watch us now;
the three main networks’ colors glow
livid through drapes onto the lawn.
Dishes are washed and homework done,
the dog and grandma fall asleep,
a car roars past playing loud pop,
is gone. As I look down the road
I know America is good at heart.
An old cold warrior piloting towards
an unknown shore through shoals.
The rats begin to chew the sheets.
There’s murmuring bellow.
Now there’s ingratitude!
My hand is steady as a rock.
A sound like mourning doves reaches my ears,
nobody is a friend of ours.

** Let’s face it.
If we don’t succeed on this summit,
our name is mud.
We’re not out of the woods, not yet. **

(To Chou)

The nation’s heartland skips a beat
as our hands shield the spinning globe
from the flame throwers of the mob.
We must press on. We know we want...
What?... Oh yes...

KISSINGER
Mr. President...

Scene 2: Meeting with Mao

(The incandescent lamps are the lamps of Chairman
Mao’s study. They are old-fashioned standard lamps
with tasselled shades. Books lie open everywhere, face
down or face up. The walls are filled with books, most
of them stuffed with long paper bookmark. Chairman
Mao Tse-tung is seated on one of several over-stuffed
brown slip-covered armchairs arranged in a semi-
circle. Several Chinese photographers slip into the
room, then President Nixon, Premier Chou En-lai
and Dr. Kissinger make their entrance. A girl secretary
(one of three who will sit on straight chairs behind
Mao and sing back-up) takes the Chairman’s arm
and he hoists himself out of the chair and advances
to shake hands)

MAO
I can’t talk very well. My throat...

NIXON
I’m nearly speechless
with delight just to be here

MAO
We’re even then.
That is the right way to begin.
Our common old friend Chiang Kai-shek
with all his virtues would not look
too kindly on all this.
We seem to be beneath the likes of him.
You’ve seen his latest speech?

NIXON
You bet.
It was a scorcher. Still, he’s spit
into the wind before, and will again.
That puts it into scale.
You shouldn’t despise Chiang.

MAO
No fear of that.
We’re followed his career for generations.
There’s not much beneath our notice.

CHOU
We will touch
On this in our communiqué.

(They sit down, and the photographers who have
snapped the handshakes continue to photograph
them. The Chairman and the President sit next to
one another at the center of the semi-circle while
the Premier sits next to the Chairman and Dr.
Kissinger sits next to the President, facing each
other, at its ends. The secretaries take their seats
behind the Chairman)

MAO
Ah, the philosopher! I see
Paris can spare you then.

KISSINGER
The Chairman
may be gratified to hear
he’s read at Harvard.
I assign all four volumes.

MAO
Those books of mine aren’t anything.
Incorporate their words
within a people’s thought
as poor men’s common sense and try
their strength on women’s nerves,
then say they live.

NIXON
The Chairman’s book enthralled
a nation, and have changed the world.

MAO
I could not change it.
I’d be glad to think that in the neighborhood of Peking
something will remain.

NIXON
Let us turn our talk towards Taiwan,
Vietnam and the problems there, Japan...

MAO
Save that for the Premier.
My business is philosophy.
Now Doctor Kissinger...

KISSINGER
Who me?

MAO
... has made his reputation in
Foreign affairs.

NIXON
My right hand man.
You’d never think to look at him
that he’s James Bond.

CHOU
And all the time
he’s doing undercover work.

KISSINGER
I had a cover.

MAO
In the dark
all diplomats are gray.

CHOU
Or gris
when their work takes them to Paris.

KISSINGER
I pull the wool over their...

NIXON
Stop!

MAO
He pulls the wool over their lap.

NIXON
He’s a consummate diplomat.
Girls think he’s lukewarm
when he’s hot.

MAO
You also dally with your girls?

NIXON
His girls, not mine.

KISSINGER
He never tells.

CHOU
And this is an election year.

(The photographers have finished; Chou ushers
them out into the hall. When he returns he sits a
little straighter, as do the President and Dr. Kissinger.
Only Chairman Mao continues to lean back, his arms
over the chair’s arms, as the conversation moves on)

MAO
You know we’ll meet with your confrere
the Democratic candidate if he should win.

NIXON
That is a fate
we hope you won’t have to endure.
I’d like to make another tour as President.

MAO
You’ve got my vote.
I back the man who’s on the right.

KISSINGER
Who’s in the right you mean.

MAO
No, no.

NIXON
What they put forward
we put through.

MAO
I like right-wingers:
Nixon, Heath...

NIXON
De Gaulle.

MAO
No, not De Gaulle. I’m loath
to file him in that pigeonhole.

KISSINGER
But Germany’s another tale.

MAO
We’ve more than once led the right wing
forward while text-book cadres swung
back into goose-step, home at last.
How your most rigid theorist
revises as he goes along!

NIXON
Now you’re referring to Wang Ming,
Chiang, Chang Kuo-tao and Li Li-san.

MAO
I spoke generally.
The line we take now is a paradox.
Among the followers of Marx the extreme left,
the doctrinaire,
tend to be fascist.

NIXON
And the far right?

MAO
True Marxism is called that by
the extreme left.
Occasionally the true left calls
a spade a spade and tells the left it’s right.

CHOU
You’ve said
that there’s a certain well-known tree
that grows from nothing in a day,
lives only as a sapling,
dies just at its prime,
when good men raise
it as their idol.

NIXON
Not the cross?

MAO
The Liberty Tree. Let it pass.
I was a riddle, not a test.
The revolution does not last.
It is duration ... the regime
survives in that, and not in time.
While it is young in us it lives;
we can save it, it never saves.

KISSINGER
And yours will last a thousand years.

MAO
Founders come first,
then profiteers.

NIXON
Capitalist?

MAO
Fishers of men.
An organized oblivion.

NIXON
The crane...

MAO
Let us not be misled.

NIXON
The Yellow Crane has flown abroad.
Think of what we have lost and gained
since forty-nine.

CHOU
The current trend suggests
that China’s future might...

NIXON
Might break the Futures Market.

MAO
That would be a break.
No doubt our plunge into the New York Stock Exchange
will line some pockets here and there.
Will these investments be secure?
No. Not precisely.

NIXON
There’s the catch.
You don’t want China to be rich.

MAO
You want to bring your boys back home.

NIXON
What if we do? Is that a crime?

MAO
Our armies do not go abroad.
Why should they?
We have all we need:
new missionaries, businesslike,
survey the field and the attack,
promise to change our rice to bread,
and wash us in our brothers’ blood,

** and give us beads **

and crucify us on a cross of usury.
After them come the Green Berets,
insuring their securities.

NIXON
Where it the Chinese people’s faith?

MAO
The people’s faith?
Another myth to sell bonds.
It’s worked well for you.
The people are determined to divide the land
to make it whole.
Piecing the broken Golden Bowl
the world to come has come, is theirs.
We cried "Long live the Ancestors!",
once, it’s "Long live the Living!" now.

NIXON
History holds her breath.

MAO
We know the great silent majority
will bide its time.

KISSINGER
There you’ve got me. I’m lost.

CHOU
The Chairman means the dead.

NIXON
Confucius...

MAO
We no longer need Confucius.
Let him rot... no curse...
Words decompose to feed their source...
Old leaves absorbed into the tree
to grow again as branches.
They sprang from the land,
they are alike its food and dung.
Upon a rock you may well build your tomb,
but give us the earth, and we’ll dig a grave.
A hundred years and ears may press hard
to the ground to hear his voice.
Platonic men freed from the caves of Pao An
want to spend their lives in the daylight,
to hear the sound of industry borne on the wind:
the plow breaking the furrow,
cloth pierced by the needle,
giant earth movers and these men want to work,
not turn back, dazzled, to the dark...
Echoes, shadows and chains.
Such men will drive away the Yellow Crane
at last to harness the Yangtze.
Another generation may turn up Confucius’
china guard waiting in bunkers for their lord.

NIXON
Like the Ming Tombs.
I think this leap forward to light is the first step
of all our youth, all nations’ youth;
our duty is to show them both their future
and our past, the fire and the noon glare.
How they inspire our poor dry bones,
put us in mind of our forgotten dreams!
We send children on our crusades,
we bring children our countries, right or wrong.
Then we retire.
Fathers and sons, let us join hands,
make peace for once.
History is our mother,
we best do her honor in this way.

MAO
History is a dirty sow:
if we by chance escape her maw
she overlies us.

NIXON
That’s true, sure.
And yet we still must seize the hour
and seize the day.

CHOU
You overlook the fact that hands are raised to strike,
hands are stretched out to seize their kill.
Here where we stand, beyond the pale,
Your outstretched hand, the Russian’s wave,
appear ambiguous.
Forgive my bluntness.

** NIXON
There’s no reason why you should trust us.
I’ll never say I’ll do something I cannot do,
and I’ll do more then you can know.
But since you do not know me,
please don’t trust me.
Wait. These may be lies.

KISSINGER
I can vouch for the President. **

(The Premier has been discreetly glancing at his watch
for some time. Now he stands up, and the President and
Dr. Kissinger follow his example. Chairman Mao is
assisted by his secretaries as he hauls himself up.
Walking slowly and talking, they take their leave)

MAO
I’m growing old and soft
and won’t demand your overthrow.

NIXON
Your life is known to all.
It’s a relief to think I may be spared.

MAO
I thought you might be overwhelmed!

NIXON
My feet are firmly planted on the ground,
like yours, like you I take my stand among poor people.
We can talk.

MAO
"Six Crises" isn’t a bad book.

NIXON
He reads too much.

CHOU
Ah, who can say?

NIXON
Has study given Chairman Mao
an iron constitution?

MAO
No.

(The Chairman sees his visitors offstage and
shuffles back to his books)


MAO
Founders come first, then profiteers.

SECRETARIES
Founders come first, then profiteers.

(They write it down)

Scene 3: The great hall of the people

(It is the evening of the first day. The Americans are
being feted in the Great Hall of the People. Outside,
the roof is outlined by strings of lights, inside there
are tables set for nine hundred. Against the far wall
a small dais supports a bank of microphones. The
American and Chinese flags are pinned against that
wall. The President and the First Lady sit on either side
of the Premier, their backs to the flags, and gaze across
a snowy field of table linen. There is their party, there
the newsmen, there the important Chinese. In the
distance the vision begins to blur. The atmosphere is
convivial; in that huge hall the President feels strangely
joyful and lightheaded, as if this were the evening of
arrival in heaven. And so the conversation rises and
falls throughout the courses of the banquet)

NIXON
The night is young.

PAT
A long, long trail unwinding towards my dreams,
uphill right to the very last frontier,
and then we’re home. I love you dear.

NIXON
You must be worn out.

PAT
No, I washed and rested,
so I feel refreshed.
But you...

NIXON
This air agrees with me.
Wish we could send some to D.C.
I’ve never felt so good.

PAT
I saw a snow moon on our way here. Snow!
Snow over China! Think of that!
It makes me shiver.

NIXON
Just you wait until the toasting starts.
Between the booze and praise you’ll warm up then.

PAT
It may go to my head.

NIXON
It may, and I might be a Russian spy.

PAT
Seriously...

NIXON
You saw the moon in clouds and forecast snow.
Go on.

PAT
Be a peacemaker, Premier Chou.

CHOU
All Mrs. Nixon says is true enough.
The pressure’s falling fast.
I feel it in my bones.

NIXON
At least this Great Hall of the People
stands like a fortress against
the winds whatever their direction.
Yet the west wind heralds spring.

CHOU
I doubt that spring has come.

PAT
Take a deep breath and you can taste it. It’s the truth.
Although there’s more snow still to fall,
the spring’s as good as here.

KISSINGER
Meanwhile we sit together in the cold.

CHOU
Huddled for warmth you mean?
But could we not take some encouragement
from this appearance of détente?

NIXON
(To Chou)
He can’t hear you. He’s miles away.
A Frenchman once observed to me
"At the edge of the Rubicon men don’t go fishing".
I know one statesman who thinks a fishing trip
will help him land the Great White Hope.

CHOU
Intelligence is no bad thing.

NIXON
It’s Henry’s trump card. This stuffs strong poison.

CHOU
A universal cure, or so we call it over here.

(After the third course is finished, Premier Chou
rises to toast his American guest)

CHORUS
Shh, shh.

CHOU
Ladies and gentlemen,
comrades and friends, we have begun
to celebrate the different ways
that led us to this mountain pass,
this summit where we stand.
Look down and think what we have undergone.
Future and past lie far below half-visible.
We marvel now that we survived those battles,
took those shifting paths,
blasted that rock to lay those rails.
Through the cold night,
uncompromising lines of thought
attempted to find common ground
where their militias might contend,
confident that the day would come
for shadow-boxers to strike home.
We saw by the first light of dawn
the outlined cities of the plain,
and see them still, surrounded by
the pastures of their tenantry.
On land we have not taken yet
innumerable blades of wheat salute the sun.
Our children race downhill unflustered into peace.

We will not sow their fields with salt,
or burn their standing crop.
We built these terraces for them alone.
The virtuous American and the Chinese
make manifest their destinies in time.
We toast that endless province whose frontier
we occupy from hour to hour,
holding in perpetuity the ground our people
won today from vision to inheritance.
All patriots were brothers once:
let us drink to the time
when they shall be brothers again. Gam bei!

(President Nixon rises to respond)

NIXON
Mr. Premier, distinguished guests,
I have attended many feasts
but never have I so enjoyed a dinner,
nor have I heard placed better the music
that I love outside America.
I move a vote of thanks to one
and all whose efforts made this possible.
No one who heard could but admire
your eloquent remarks, Premier,
and millions more hear what we say
through satellite technology
than ever heard a public speech before.
No one is out of touch telecommunication
has broadcast your message into space.
Yet soon our words won’ t be recalled
while what we do can change the world.
We have at times been enemies,
we still have differences, God knows.
But let us, in these next five days,
start a long march on new highways,
in different lanes, but parallel
and heading for a single goal.
The world watches and listens.
We must seize the hour and seize the day.

(President Nixon and Premier Chou toast each other,
then Mrs. Nixon. Caught up in the spirit of friendship,
the banqueters go from table to table toasting one
another while the band plays old favourites. The
banquet has become something very like a square
dance)

NIXON
This is the hour!

CHOU
Your health!

PAT
And yours!

CHOU
To Doctor Kissinger!

NIXON
Cheers!

KISSINGER
Cheers!
New friends and present company!

NIXON
To Chairman Mao!

CHOU
The U.S.A.!

PAT
Have you forgotten Washington?

CHOU
Washington’s birthday!

NIXON
Everyone listen, just let me say one thing.
I opposed China. I was wrong.

KISSINGER
Bottoms up, Mr. President.

PAT
What did you say, Sweetheart?
I can’t catch every word in all this noise.

1 CHORUS
We have at times been enemies.

2 CHORUS
The Chinese people are renowned.

NIXON
Ideas we have entertained...

PAT
"America the Beautiful"!

1 CHORUS
We must broadcast seeds of goodwill.

2 CHORUS
Comrades and friends...

NIXON
... in former years grow in a night to touch the stars.

CHORUS
Look down and think what the Chinese people
have done to earn this praise

KISSINGER
You won’ t believe how moved I am.

CHORUS
We marvel now.

NIXON
It’s like a dream.




ACT TWO


Scene 1: Mrs. Nixon views China

(It is morning of February 22, another cold day.
Although it is snowing, the First Lady wears no
protection for the blonde hair. She has gone off
on her own for a sight-seeing trip. Anti-American
posters have been torn off walls, market stalls are
piled with goods, children in snowsuits wave the
flag. Mrs. Nixon is "loving every minute of it". She
has just shaken hands with many of the one hundred
and fifteen kitchen workers at the Peking Hotel. Ahead
on her schedule are the Evergreen People’s Commune,
the Summer Palace and the Ming Tombs. In the evening
there will bet the opera. The citizens of Peking,
seconded from their factories to clear the streets, look
up and smile as the knot of guides and reporters pauses
in its progress)

PAT
I don’t daydream and don’t look back,
in this world you can’t count on luck.
I think what is to be will be in spite of us,
I treat each day like Christmas.
Never have I cared for trivialities. Good Lord!
Trivial things are not for me,
I come from a poor family.
This little elephant in glass
brings back so many memories.
The symbol of our party, prize of our success,
our sacred cow surrounded by blind Brahmins,
slow Musclebound, well-dressed, half-awake,
with Liberty upon her back.
Tell me, is it one of a kind?

CHORUS
It has been carefully designed
by workers at this factory.
They can make hundreds every day.

PAT
Wonderful!

CHORUS
Look down at the earth,
look down, look down;
down from the north the snowstorm comes.
Mile after mile on each side
of the ice-locked wall vanishes.
Far as you can see you cannot see the land or sky.
A living current moves beneath rivers caught
in the hand of death,
serpentine mountains cross the plain
to bask in an uncertain sun,
and elephantine hills rejoice advancing towards
a sky of ice.
This country is so beautiful;
one fine day you will see it all.

(The tour moves away; it is time the First Lady saw the
Evergreen People’s Commune and its model swine-
rearing facilities, People’s Clinic, recreation building,
and school)

CHORUS
This is the People’s Clinic.

PAT
Ouch! I think it’s sort of rude to watch.

CHORUS
"Do not distress yourself", she begs.
She will get well. Come see the pigs.

PAT
I once raised a red-ribbon boar.

CHORUS
Do you think you could scratch his ear?
Thank you.

PAT
And how was that?

CHORUS
Just fine.

CHORUS
Here are some children having fun.

PAT
The children in the U.S.A. all say hello.
I used to be a teacher many years ago
and now I’m here to learn from you.

(Smiling and waving, Mrs. Nixon and her entourage
leave the commune and proceed to the next stop on her
tour: the Summer Palace where she is photographed
strolling through the Hall of Benevolence and
Longevity, the Hall of Happiness in Longevity,
the Hall of Dispelling the Clouds, and the Pavilion
of the Fragrance of Buddha. She pauses in the gate
of Longevity and Good Will to sing)

PAT
This is prophetic! I foresee a time will come when
luxury dissolves into the atmosphere like a perfume,
and everywhere the simple virtues root
and branch and leaf and flower.
On that bench there we’ll relax
and taste the fruit of all our actions.
Why regret life which is so much like a dream?
Let the eternal plan resume.
In the bedroom communities let us be taken by surprise.
Yes! Let the band play on and on,
let the stand-up comedian finish his act,
let Gypsy Rose kick off her high-heeled party shoes;
let interested businessmen speculate further,
let routine dull the edge of mortality.
Let days grow imperceptibly longer,
let the sun set in cloud;
let lonely drivers on the road pull over for a bite to eat,
let the farmer switch on the light over the porch,
let passer by look in at the large family
around the table, let them pass.
Let the expression on the face
of the Statue of Liberty change just a little,
let her see what lies inland:
across the plain one man is marching...
the Unknown Soldier has risen from his tomb,
let him be recognized at home.
The Prodigal. Give him his share:
the eagle nailed to the barn door.
Let him be quick.
The sirens wail as bride
and groom kiss through the veil.
Bless this union with all its might,
let it remain inviolate.

(There is some clapping, then the First Lady is ushered
into the limousine for the ride to the Ming Tombs,
where ancient Chinese emperors were laid to rest.
It is about four o’clock in the afternoon and the warm-
colored light which precedes sunset in the very early
spring illuminates the limestone statues. Or are they
sandstone? The First Lady pats the pockmarked leg
of an archaic elephant. She has put on her mink hat
during the drive. She revels in the quiet ... no traffic,
no airplanes, no loudspeakers, only the sound of the
human voice and the sound of footsteps on flagstones
and new snow)

PAT
At last the weather’s warming up.
Look! The skins clear now.

CHORUS
Watch your step.

PAT
I said it would, remember?

CHORUS
Please, Mrs. Nixon, watch...

PAT
Oh yes.
And look! Another elephant!
Why hello, Jumbo! I was meant to come here.
What a lovely park!
Time for a picnic?

CHORUS 1
They could work stone in those days.

CHORUS 2
Labor was cheap.

CHORUS 1
Men dug their own graves.

CHORUS 2
They rose up.
Like statues covered in the dust of their creation.

CHORUS 1
Communist elements!

CHORUS 2
Men like these behold each revolution of the world.

CHORUS 1
Swimming through space as fish swim through the sea.

CHORUS 2
Resting in currents.

CHORUS 1
Though they got two bowls of rice a day.

CHORUS 2
The salt was black.

CHORUS 1
They drank white tea.

PAT
It rounds like you remember them.

CHORUS
We should go back now.

PAT
What a shame!

(The First Lady takes the arm of her interpreter...
a friendly gesture... as the group turns back towards
the limousine whose engine has been running for some
time. The sun is setting, the west is red, and the moon
is clearly visible. Mrs. Nixon may be supposed to be
thinking about her bath and the outfit she will wear
to the ballet)

Scene 2: Opera of Pekin

(The curtain rises to reveal an audience. Madame
Mao, in a dark Sun Yatsen suit and black-rimmed
men’s glasses, sits between the President and Mrs.
Nixon, Mrs. Nixon, who has changed her scarlet
costume for a pastel-colored one, has been exchanging
small talk with the Premier, who sits on her other side.
We have only a few seconds to grasp these details
before another curtain rises onstage. Three beautiful
young women are chained to posts. The First Lady
sits forward a little, as, indeed, does the President.
The young women wear rags ... and defiantly new ballet
shoes. This is the opening of The Red Detachment of
Women. The dancer in the center, the proudest one, the
one most heavily laden with chains, is Wu Ching-hua,
the heroine. We understand that they are in the lock-up
of an estate on a tropical island. Two women step from
their posts and begin a furious dance. Ching-hua
stands stock-still. Three contraltos from the chorus
sing)

CHORUS
Young as we
are we expect fear,
every year
more of us bow
beneath the shadow
of the next blow.
Down on all fours
our grandfathers
swallow abuse
as if by choice
the humble flesh
kisses the lash,
spit and polish,
polish and spit
blacken the boot
and they submit,
embrace the foot,
cushion the kick:
rabbit and snake
dance cheek to cheek.
we are awake,
we know these matters,
how the poor debtors
still sell their daughters,
how in the drought
men still grow fat
on the profit
won grain by grain
from other men
caught in the famine
who trade their oxen
for a day’s ration;
then the plow goes,
then tools, then clothes,
at last the land.
Where is the bound,
naked and stunned’
Hand over hand
he drags his skin.
Look at him grin
he can’t complain.
Look at that thing
that was his tongue
he won’t be long.

(Lao Szu, the land lord’s factotum, enters, accompanied
by a guard. Singing to himself, he fumbles with his keys
and Ching-hua’s shackles)

KISSINGER
(as Lao Szu)
Oh what a day!
I thought I’d die!
That luscious thigh
that swelling breast
scented and greased,
a sacrifice
running with juice
at my caress.
She was so hot
I was hard-put
to be polite
when the first cut
... Come on you slut!...
Scored her brown skin
I started in,
man upon hen!

(Ching-hua embraces the other women. They
dance while the women in the chorus sing)


CHORUS
(as Ching-hua)
How thin you are!
If every scar
on this poor back
could only speak,
these walls would crack,
this thick-walled heart
cast in the dirt
would raise the cry
"Hate Tyranny!"

(Suddenly she seizes the whip from Lao Szu’s hand,
brandishes it, and kicks him to the ground. Just as
the guard lays hands on her, the two women fling
themselves on the guard and Lao Szu. Ching-hua
escapes)

CHORUS
(as Ching-hua)
The land outside
this cell is red,
running with blood,
hot in the sun
we have not seen
not until now
now let me through!

PAT
Doesn’t he look like you know who!

(At once the scene changes to the coconut
grove. Mercenaries in battle dress run,
crouching slightly, through the clearing.
Ching-hua enters, dancing. She is quick
and wary and eludes the dispersing troops)

CHORUS
(as Ching-hua)
Can’t find the path...
Must find the path...

(She collides with Lao Szu. They struggle.
He torments her with the cane. The mercenaries
re-enter)

KISSINGER
(as Lao Szu)
Whip her to death!

PAT
They can’t do that!

NIXON
It’s just a play.
She’ll get up afterwards, you’ll see.
Easy there, Hon.

KISSINGER
(as Lao Szu)
Whip her to death!

PAT
It’s terrible! I hare you both!
Make them stop, make them stop!

NIXON
Sweetheart. Leave them alone, you might get hurt.

(The First Lady rushes onstage. The president, who has
reluctantly followed her, holds her by the shoulders as
Ching-hua is beaten insensible. She has resisted to the
last)

KISSINGER
(as Lao Szu)
This is the fate of all who
set small against great.
Leave it to rot.

(The sky looks ominous. Tyrant, factotum and
mercenaries all retreat in the face of a tropical storm.
Rain pelts down. The coconut palms bow like grass.
The President and the First Lady stand onstage with
the body of Ching-hua, the recumbent dancer. He is
stunned, she is rapt, they are both soaked to the skin)

** NIXON
There there, there there. Jesus it’s wet.
What would I do without you, Pat? **

(As quickly as it rose the wind dies down and with in
the rain. Party Representative Hung Chang-ching
enters on a scouting mission. Together he and Mrs.
Nixon raise Ching-hua to her feet)

PAT
Thank God you came. Just look at this!
Poor thing! It’s simple barbarous!
"Whip her to death!" he said. I’d like
to give his God-Damned whip a crack!
Oh Dick! You’re sopping!

(Hung Chiang Ch'ing is filled with deep proletarian
feelings for this peasant’s daughter who has suffered so
bitterly. He offers her a glass of orange juice. It is the
first act of kindness she has ever known. Trembling, she
raises the glass with both hands and drinks. Then the
clouds part, the sky is filled with a blaze of light, and
the full detachment of the Red Women’s Militia enters
in formation and unfurls its banners. Entry March of
the Women’s Company. Hung Chiang Ch'ing points to
the company and to the flags waving in the rain-washed
air, inviting Ching-hua to join her fellow workers and
peasants in the People’s Army. Everyone cheers as
Hung presents her with a rifle and she joins her
comrades in a spirited drill. Target Practice and
Bayonet Dance)

CHORUS
Flesh rebels
the body pulls
those inflamed soul
that mark its trials
into the war.
Arm this soldier!
Rise up in arms!
Tropical storms
uproot the palms
ending their sway.
The Red Army
showed us the way.
From the scorched earth
people step forth
over dead wood
and over the dead.
Follow their lead.
The hand grenade
beats in the chest;
let the heart burst,
let the clenched first
strike the first blow
for Chairman Mao
and overthrow
the tyrant, and
share out the land.
Share out the land,
unclench the first,
let the heart burst
and sow broadcast
the dragon’s teeth
your kin and kith
seed of your seed
your flesh and blood.

(The scene changes to the courtyard of the tyrant’s
mansion. Sleek Kuomintang officers, political bosses
and well-fed farmers celebrate their host’s birthday.
Waiters pour wine as the guards display their military
training. Dance of the Mercenaries. Hung Chiang
Ch'ing enters, dressed as a foreign merchant. He
is accompanied by the President, who presents the
doorman with a red-and-gilt card. Lao Szu rushes
to greet these exotic guests)

KISSINGER
(as Lao Szu)
I have my brief.
I flatter myself.
I know my man.
The sine qua non
the face on the coin.
You see what I mean.
The empire builder,
the man with his shoulder
against the roulette wheel:
he stands like a stone wall
and sticks of success.
I’m here to liaise
with the backroom boys
who know how to live.
And me, I contrive
to catch a few crumbs...
The ringleaders’ names
The gist of their schemes...
Loose change.

NIXON
Here friend, something for you.
You’re talking like a real pro.

(The President hands a few coins to Lao Szu and
Hung Chiang Ch'ing tosses a handful of small change
to the guards, who scramble on the ground and fight
among themselves. Embarrassed, Lao Szu orders his
men to fetch the entertainment. A number of serving
girls enter, dressed mostly in flowers. They are
members of the Red Women’s Militia. The guards
compel them to dance. Grimly the girls begin to execute
a colorful Li Nationality Dance. Only one of them
allows her anger to break the surface. It is Ching-hua.
Her eyes sweep the crowded courtyard, resting briefly
on Lao Szu. Madame Mao has risen from her chair in
the audience. She raises one hand and points to Ching-
hua)

CHORUS
(as Ching-hua)
It seems so strange
to take revenge
after so long
to find the wrong
can be undone.
The silent gun
warms in my hand
salving the wound
made by the men
it will gun down
all in good time
I shall kill them.
Yes, every one.
Revenge is mine

CHIANG CH’ING
That is your cue.

(Ching-hua produces an automatic pistol and fires two
shorts. But it was not her cue. The company is stunned.

PAT
She’s started shooting, Dick

NIXON
I know.

CHORUS
Oh no!

CHIANG CH’ING
What are you gaping at?
Forward Red Troupe! Annihilate
this tyrant and his running dogs!

NIXON
Oh no!

CHIANG CH’ING
Throw off those stupid rags!
Advance and fire! Fix bayonets!
The worms are hungry!
Must the fruits of victory
rot on the vine?

(Offering only a token resistance, the mercenaries
break and scatter, throwing aside their weapons as
they run. The red flag rises over the mansion. Peasants
push through the broken gates, weeping for joy)

** PAT
Is Henry okay?

NIXON
Christ he’s gone. **

(The granary has been opened. The President takes
on the task of distributing grain to the hungry peasants.
Meanwhile, the company, led by Hung Chiang Ch'ing
severely rebukes Ching-hua and disarms her. She
is deeply distressed. For a moment Madame Mao,
standing in their midst, seems almost left out. Then
she begins to sing)

CHORUS
Are you one of us?
You are what you choose.
Your paradise
begins are ends
in open wounds
and self-abuse
where your heart is.
Your sacred heart
Is rotten meat;
Your little treasure,
your precious flower,
your sweet revenge.
Nothing can change
without discipline.
Give me that gun.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung
who raised the weak above the strong.
When I appear the people hang
upon my words, and for his sake
whose wreaths are heavy round my neck
I speak according to the book.
When did the Chinese people last
expose its daughters? At the breast
of history I sucked and pissed,
thoughtless and heartless, red and blind,
I cut my teeth upon the land
and when I walked my feet were bound
on revolution. Let me be
a grain of sand in heaven’s eye
and I shall taste eternal joy.

(The people express their bitterness against
counter-revolutionary elements)




ACT THREE


Scene 1: Last night in Pekin

(It is the last night in Peking. The President is very,
very tired: the lights do not flatter him. The First Lady
looks fragile and heavily powdered. Madame Mao is
smaller than they had remembered her. And Chou En-
lai seems old and quite worn out. Only Chairman Mao
appears at his best, full of the joy of youth and the hope
of revolution in his picture on the wall. Dr. Kissinger is
impatient. He scratches the back of his neck, his nose,
and his ear)

KISSINGER
Some men you cannot satisfy.

NIXON
That’s what I tell them.

KISSINGER
They can’t say you didn’t tell them.

NIXON
It’s no good.
All that I say is misconstrued.

(To Pat)

Your lipstick’s crooked.

PAT
Is it? Oh.
There isn’t much that I can do,
is there? Who’s seen my handkerchief?

CHOU
Please accept mine.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
I’ve heard enough.
Who chose these numbers?

KISSINGER
All of us.
Doesn’t she like the people’s choice?

NIXON
Now for a solo on the spoons!

PAT
I like it when they play our tunes.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
This should be better. Hit it, boys!

PAT
Oh! California! Hold me close.

MAO
I am no one.

CHOU
We fight, we die.
And if we do not fight we die.

KISSINGER
That’s how it goes.

MAO
I am unknown.
Give me a cigarette.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
Come down.
Give me your hand, old man.

MAO
Why not?

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
(To Mao)
Let’s dance.

MAO
Give me a cigarette.

(She takes his hand and he climbs out of the portraits’
background)

CHOU
And to what end? Tell me.

KISSINGER
Premier, Please, where’s the toilet?

CHOU
Through that door.

KISSINGER
Excuse me for one moment, please.

(Kissinger exits at the double)

CHOU
We saw our parents’ nakedness;
rivers of blood will be required
to cover them. Rivers of blood.

PAT
I squeezed your pay check till it screamed,
there was the rent, there were those damned
slipcovers, and the groceries.

NIXON
You made that place a home.

PAT
That place was heaven next to this.

(Mao and Chiang Ch’ing begin to dance)

** NIXON
You should think positive. Try not to brood.

PAT
The trouble was,
we moved too much.
We should have stayed put,
Dick.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
We’ll teach these motherfuckers how to dance!

CHOU
It makes me sick. **

MAO
We did this once before

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
Oh? When?

MAO
It was the time that tasty little starlet came
to infiltrate my headquarters.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
Go on!

PAT
I thank my lucky stars
I kept those letters that you wrote
from the Pacific. Seems like that
was the best time of all; you had
my picture, and each night I read your mind.

NIXON
What an idealist.

CHOU
A bankrupt people repossessed
the ciphers of its history
and not one character could say
whether the war was over yet
or if they’d written off the debt.

MAO
What did she call herself? Lan P’ing?

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
You named me. I was very young.

NIXON
There was so much I couldn’t tell.

PAT
Such as?

MAO
You were a little fool.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
And your best pupil.

CHOU
In Yenan we were just boys.

MAO
Revolution is a boys’ game.

CHOU
I have grown old and done no more work than a child.

NIXON
Sitting round the radio
with the enlisted men, I knew
my time had come. The signal cleared
transmitting nothing like a word.
There was a cross round one guy’s neck.
I noticed that.

PAT
You told me, Dick.

NIXON
The corrugated metal roof
shook in the rain.
The men were safe.
I said goodbye to you then, Pat.

PAT
Did you?

NIXON
Then I began to wait.
The rain seeped in under the door.
The lights went out.

PAT
You told me, dear.

NIXON
That was the time I should have died.

MAO
Let us examine what you did.
we led a quiet life,
we grew stronger,
we walked behind the plow.
And as we worked year after year
the yellow dust that filled the air
softened the Buddha’s well-known face
and made him seem like one of us

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
We ate wild apricots.

CHOU
The taste is in my mouth.
Once we had roast
and a light film of dust
settled on each plate.
Your few subjectivist mistakes ...

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
Small lizards basked among the rocks,
warm as your hand.

MAO
Only confirm mythology’s eternal charm;
roused from a state of seeming rest
its landscape offers up the ghost,
an ancient tactical retreat,
retrenched in the inanimate.
These things were men.

NIXON
When I woke up
I dimly realized the Jap
bombers had given us a miss...

** It was the weather I suppose **

PAT
Thank heaven for that.

NIXON
Then I went out already it was meeting hot,
a cloud of steam rose from the base
just like a Roman sacrifice.

PAT
I never doubted you’d come back.
I always knew.

NIXON
I felt so weak with disappointment and relief
everything seemed larger than life.

CHOU
I have no offspring. In my dreams
the peasants with their hundred names,
unnamed children and nameless wives
deaden my footsteps like dead leaves;
no one I killed, but those I saw
starved to death.

MAO
Saved from our decay.
Admire that perfect skeleton,
those veins, that skin like cellophane.
Take them and press them in a book.
Dare we behave as if the meek
will mark the places of the wise?

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
The masses stride ahead of us.
We follow.

CHOU
Only they can tell how the land lies,
where the pitfall was excavated, the mines laid...

MAO
The instant before bombs explode
intricate struggles coexist within an entity,
embraced till they ignite.

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
I can keep still,
I can say footing for a while,
while the sparks die high in the air
the sun moves on. Nothing I fear
has ever harmed me, why should you?
Marshal your forces, I’ll lie low.
The drought has made me thin and strong.
When they took off their coasts and hung
them over branches, and the pick
scraped this eroded ground,
I shook with pure excitement.

NIXON
After that...

PAT
A penny for your thoughts.

NIXON
The sweat had soaked my uniform,

** my hair dripped down my forehead... **

PAT
Did it dear?
You’ve always suffered terribly
from nervous perspiration.

NIXON
I began to take in all the sights.
Picture a thousand coconuts
like mandrills’ heads or native masks,
milk oozing from their broken husks,
the flooded rib of a palm frond
where several centipedes had drowned,
unsanded wood that smelled like meat...
Jesus, it grabbed you by the throat.

PAT
Wonder what I was doing then?
Dressing up as if you’d walk in at any moment.
Go on, dear.
Don’t let me interrupt.

NIXON
The war was dislocated. Hold a shell
up to your ear. Guadalcanal
sounds distant, roughly like the sea.

MAO
As they advance
we melt away into the underbrush;
we strike while they’re asleep,
a single spark sets them alight.
Cast the net wide and draw it in.

CHOU
The east is red;
as we ride eastwards to Peking
preoccupied with our last long
triumphant march, the early light
embalms each soldier on the route

** MAO
Well said! **

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
Peking watches the stars,
Nanking slips naked.
Murderers stretch out in doorways in Shanghai.
Chungking’s old-fashioned armory lies undefended.
Yenan rests like a wise virgin.
All the coasts are clear,
and all the oceans still as we ride eastwards.

MAO
We recoil from victory and all its works.
What do you think of that, Karl Marx?
Speak up!

HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
We should go underground.
The revolution must not end.

MAO
As we ride eastwards to Peking
I shut my eyes and, listening
Hard, hear the old harmonium
we left behind, I-I-I dream
that shoals of small transparent fish
race down a shallow river.

** HUNG CHIANG CH’ING
Hush. **

PAT

You won at poker.

NIXON
I sure did.
I had a system. Five-card stud
taught me a lot about mankind.
Speak softly and don’t show your hand
became my motto.

PAT
Tell me more.

NIXON
Well, the Pacific theater
was not much to write home about.

PAT
Yes, dear. I think you told me that.
I read it while I did my hair
and put it in my stocking drawer
with all the others.

NIXON
I was "Nick".
I must have told you that.

PAT
Yes, Dick.

NIXON
Christ, it was beautiful.
I swapped spam for hamburger meat
and roped in a few men to rig a stand.
They called it "Nick’s Snack Shack".
I found the smell of burgers on the grill
made strong men cry.
Now, Bougainville was a refuelling stop...

PAT
I know.
Each fighter pilot that came through got
a free burger and a beer.

NIXON
Done to a turn:
medium – rare,
rare, medium, well-done, anything you say.
The Customer is King.
Sorry we’re low on relish. Drinks?
This is my way of saying thanks.

CHOU
I am old and I cannot sleep forever,
like the young, nor hope
that death will be a novelty
but endless wakefulness when
I put down my work and go to bed.
How much of what we did was good?
Everything seems to move beyond our remedy.
Come, heal this wound.
At this hour nothing can be done.
Just before dawn the birds begin,
the warblers who prefer the dark,
the cage-birds answering. To work!
Outside this room the chill of grace
lies heavy on the morning grass.