As a coda to Artnet Magazine’s brilliant coverage of the cultural issues surrounding the Beijing Olympics, let me report on a small dinner I attended for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at an uptown restaurant two weeks ago. Just off the plane from Beijing, the 85-year-old Kissinger, dressed smartly in Armani, held forth for three hours over a five-course Italian dinner, to a "stag" group of ten men, plus my date Marianne.
Eyeing my date, Kissinger observed, "I still go out to nightclubs, but my wife sends a car for me at 10 pm." I told Henry how angry I had been at his bogus "peace is at hand" speech about the Vietnam War, right before the 1972 Presidential election, in which I worked as George McGovern’s New York State student coordinator. Kissinger grinned, "McGovern would have lost anyway."
Moving on to China, I asked him about the reification of Mao in China. "You are using the wrong word," Kissinger replied, "for Mao is not an object to the Chinese people. He is a living Emperor. The Chinese care not that he murdered 75 million." I asked the Secretary whether Mao’s sublords Chou En-Lai and Liu Shao-Chi were now completely forgotten. "Yes," Kissinger answered. "They are not taught in Chinese schools." He seemed dismissive of Chou, surprisingly, as Chou’s back-channel communications with Kissinger are credited by historians for Nixon’s opening to China in 1972.
Mindful of the domination of former Chinese Army officers in the hegemon of Chinese contemporary art (see the September/October issue of ArtAsiaPacific for a further attack on my views re this issue), I asked Kissinger if he foresaw a split between the Chinese Army and the Communist Party over the spoils of Chinese-style capitalism. Kissinger confirmed that such a split is a possibility, an eventuality he decried, saying the stability of China is essential.
He also reminisced at length about the SALT nuclear weapons negotiations with Soviet Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, remarking that Brezhnev had the disconcerting habit of wandering the room during Kissinger’s statements, to smoke or write letters, only returning to the table of state for the Russian translation while Kissinger, observing protocol, sat rigidly in his seat.
As a longtime Democratic operative I spent a quarter century fighting everything Kissinger hath wrought, but as a journalist, I welcomed the opportunity to pick his still vibrant psyche, and look forward to the next time.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).