Photo by Foster Winans
|Born||July 30, 1929|
Taiyuan, Shanxi, China
Ji Chaozhu (Chinese: 冀朝铸; born July 30, 1929) is a retired diplomat who held a number of important positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China (PRC), most notably as English interpreter for Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai; later as Ambassador to the Court of St. James's (United Kingdom); and lastly as an Undersecretary General of the United Nations, a post from which he retired in 1996. He played a central role in the talks leading up to and during President Richard M. Nixon's historic visit to China (1972 Nixon visit to China). His memoir, "The Man on Mao's Right", was published in July, 2008, by Random House.
Early Years in U.S.
The son of a wealthy landlord, lawyer, and provincial official in Shanxi Province, Ji and his family fled their home in Taiyuan, the provincial capital, in 1937, ahead of the advancing armies of Imperial Japan. Ji's eldest brother, Ji Chaoding, was a noted economist who earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University. He held a high position in the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government of Chiang Kai-shek, but was secretly supporting and spying for the rival Communist insurgency led by Zhou and Mao. At the urging of Zhou, Ji's family emigrated to New York City where they arrived in 1939 when Ji was nine years old. Ji attended the progressive City and Country School in Greenwich Village, earned his high school diploma from Horace Mann-Lincoln High School (now known as Horace Mann School) and attended Camp Rising Sun in 1944. He was a sophomore at Harvard University in 1950 when the Korean War broke out, pitting his native homeland against the country that had nurtured, educated, and embraced him for 12 years.
Return to China
With hundreds of other native Chinese Communist students who no longer felt welcome in the developing Cold War political atmosphere, he quit Harvard and returned to the newly formed People's Republic, studied chemistry at Tsinghua University in Beijing for a year, and then was assigned to use his flawless English to record the negotiations in Panmunjom that would eventually bring an end to the Korean War. After two years in Korea, he returned to Beijing where he was recruited to become Zhou's English interpreter, accompanying the Premier to the Geneva Conference (1954), and on Zhou's many other international trips. For most of the next two decades, he was a close aide to Zhou, and a frequent interpreter for Mao, often appearing on Mao's right on the reviewing stand at Tiananmen Square during public celebrations when English-speaking dignitaries were present. He holds the distinction of having been interpreter for Mao Zedong's last two official visits with English-speaking dignitaries, in 1976, months before the chairman's death.
Role in Chinese-U.S. Relations
During his long career, his intimate knowledge of American culture made him a valuable member of the Chinese diplomatic corps, especially when Henry Kissinger made his now-famous secret visit to Beijing in 1971 to pave the way for the Nixon visit. Zhou Enlai chose Ji to lead the first diplomatic mission to the U.S. in 1973, to establish the People's Republic's first liaison office in Washington, and he was assigned to the PRC's U.S. embassy staff after full diplomatic relations were established. He served as interpreter for Mao's ultimate successor, Deng Xiaoping, during Deng's historic visit to the U.S. in 1979. The New York Times noted at the time that from the Nixon visit to China through Deng's visit to the U.S., Ji was the only person on either side capable of interpreting from English to Chinese. The newspaper dubbed him "The Indispensable Mr. Chi." Ji was held in such high regard by U.S. diplomats that Alexander Haig, as Secretary of State under newly elected President Ronald Reagan, in 1981 requested that the PRC send Ji to meet with Reagan to try to defuse tensions over Reagan's plan to sell sophisticated weapons to the rival Taiwan regime. Ji has had occasion to meet with every U.S. president from Nixon to Clinton.
Family and Political Life
In 1956, Ji married Wang Xiangtong, an English translator working for the International Red Cross. Both Ji and Wang experienced periodic political problems during the many purges and other upheavals that marked the Mao years. In spite of his close association with Zhou and Mao, Ji was considered suspect because he had been educated in the U.S., and an older brother had stayed behind when Ji returned to China. Wang had a similar problem, as her father and mother had become separated at the end of the civil war when the Communists took control and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan. Her father and three brothers were stranded and could not return to the mainland, and her mother was in Beijing and could not leave. Ji was able to join the Chinese Communist Party in spite of his overseas connections, but Wang could not. They have two sons: Xiaotan lives in Beijing with his wife and a daughter, and Xiao-bin lives in the U.S., where he had attended high school and college while Ji was working in China's Washington embassy, and Wang was working at the United Nations. Ji Chaozhu and Wang Xiangtong now divide their time between Beijing and the island of Hainan.
- From September 1985 to May 1987 he was Chinese Ambassador to Fiji with concurrent nonresident Diplomatic accreditation as Chinese Ambassador to Kiribati and Chinese Ambassador to Vanuatu.
- From August 1987 to March 1991 he was Ambassador to the Court of St James (United Kingdom).
- Barboza, David (2012). February 17. "The Man on Mao's Right, at the Center of History". New York Times.
- "Chaozhu Ji. The Man on Mao’s Right," H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews. X.22 (2009). Introduction by Yafeng Xia Reviewers: James Z. Gao, Charles W. Hayford, Lorenz M. Lüthi, Raymond P. Ojserkis, Priscilla Roberts, Patrick Fuliang Shan, Qiang Zhai.