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Historical Era

Thinking Skill


Nixon Visits China: The Week that Changed the World

Launch Lesson

Nixon Presidential Library Education Team
Finding a Sequence
Historical Era:
Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)
Primary Historical Thinking Skill:
Historical Analysis & Interpretation
blooms taxonomy
Bloom's Taxonomy:

Use to create an Activity

Nixon Visits China: The Week that Changed the World


In this activity, student will analyze images from President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 to determine the sequence of events and learn more about American and Chinese cultural differences.

Author’s Notes

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Analyze photographs as primary documents.
  • Better understand the cultural differences between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
  • Explain the importance of President Nixon’s visit to China.
  • Improve their understanding of the Cold War and President Nixon’s foreign policy.

This activity is appropriate during a unit on the Cold War, specifically when studying the concept of détente. For grades 8-12. Approximate time needed is 30 minutes.


Prior to the activity, introduce students to the topic using “Nixon in China” on YouTube, from the Nixon Presidential Library.

After viewing the video, lead a class discussion using the following questions:

  • Why do you think China was considered a threat before President Nixon’s visit?
  • Why do you think President Nixon’s decision was so important?

To encourage discussion, ask the class to create a list of the potential benefits and risks of President Nixon’s decision to improve relations with China.

After the students have discussed the importance of Nixon’s decision to recognize China, instruct the class to open the activity to explore the importance of the actual visit. Model document analysis with one of the photographs and ask students to do the same with each subsequent photograph they encounter. Working individually or in small groups, asks students look for clues to determine the sequence of the photographs.

Once they’ve completed sequencing and answered the questions in the I’m Done section of the activity, ask the students to think about the differences between American and Chinese culture as reflected in the photographs. Lead a class discussion using the following questions:

  • What aspects of Chinese culture do you think the Chinese leaders were trying to highlight during President Nixon’s visit?
  • Were there portions of the visit that might be misunderstood by Americans learning about China for the first time?
  • Were there portions of the visit that might be misunderstood by the Chinese people learning about America for the first time?

To learn more about Richard Nixon visit Find material about the Opening of China from the Nixon Presidential Library, download the free “Nixon Visits China” collection on iTunes U, or visit the virtual exhibit on the Presidential Timeline.

For more information about the featured documents, follow the links below.

Documents in this activity: