Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (or Teng Hsiao-ping) arrives in Seattle for a two-day visit on February 3, 1979.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 4/14/2008
  • Essay 8588

On February 3, 1979, Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), arrives in Seattle for a 40-hour visit. Deng, whose name is also sometimes written as "Teng Hsiao-ping," is on the last leg of a nine-day goodwill tour through the United States. During his visit to the Northwest he will wow the crowd at a large luncheon at the Washington Plaza Hotel, tour a Boeing 747 plant in Everett, and impress people with his humor at a more casual dinner at Canlis Restaurant.

The Thaw 

During the 1970s, U.S.-Chinese relations thawed from the chill they had been under since the communist takeover of mainland China in 1949. In December 1978 President Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) extended full diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China effective January 1, 1979, and severed official relations with the Republic of China in Taiwan. TIME magazine awarded Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping its coveted “Man Of the Year” award at the end of 1978 for his “Visions of a New China” (TIME, January 1, 1979).  It was against this backdrop that Deng came to the United States late in January 1979 for a nine-day goodwill tour and to examine technology that his country needed in order to bring it into the late twentieth century. 

Deng arrived in the United States on Sunday, January 28, and met with President Carter in Washington, D.C.; from there he traveled to Atlanta and then to Houston. The event was closely followed by the media, and it generated considerable excitement in Seattle, which was Deng’s last scheduled American stop.  Jim Casey of the Everett Herald, describing the excitement surrounding Deng’s arrival, wrote that the vice premier was “the hottest celebrity Seattle had seen since the departure of King Tut, and the best draw until the coming of Neil Diamond” (Jim Casey).


Deng’s plane landed at Boeing field shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 3. After a brief opening ceremony at Boeing Field, he was whisked to the Washington Plaza Hotel (today [2008] known as the south tower of the Westin Hotel), where he and the rest of the 94-member Chinese delegation stayed during their visit. Sunday morning Deng skipped a Port of Seattle boat tour and instead met briefly with ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (b. 1923), who happened to be in Seattle on another matter, and Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (1912-1983).

Deng was big hit at a festive luncheon at noon held in the Washington Plaza ballroom. Senator Warren Magnuson (1905-1989) welcomed Deng with a toast, raising his glass and saying “gumbay,” described in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as “the Chinese word for ‘bottoms up’”; the crowd of 600 roared back “gumbay!”  Deng, dressed in a traditional blue-gray Mao suit, gave a brief speech, noting the common interests that the United States and China shared, despite their different social and political systems, in “major international issues.” This meant opposition to their common foe the Soviet Union, though he did not mention the Soviet Union by name. He concluded his remarks with “Chambe!” (a toast) to the audience and clinked glasses with Magnuson. “The audience loved it,” said The Seattle Times

There were protests against Deng’s visit, both at the airport and the Washington Plaza Hotel.  At one point during the luncheon, shouting Chinese Maoists and pro-Nationalists supporting the Taiwanese government confronted each other outside of the hotel, and there were also fears that some of the demonstrators would storm the hotel. Hundreds of police surrounded the hotel to make sure that didn’t happen. But security was tight for Deng during his entire trip. One Everett Herald reporter commented that at times the security guards were so close to Deng that no one else could see him, a problem exacerbated by the fact that Deng was only 4 feet, 11 inches tall.  

In the afternoon Deng traveled to Everett, where he toured a Boeing 747 plant at Paine Field.  He and his entourage toured the plant by golf cart, then viewed six 747s in various stages of construction and viewed several demonstrations of how the plant and the planes worked.  The Chinese, having recently ordered three 747s from Boeing, were particularly interested in this tour. Deng was described by a Boeing millwright as looking “just like a little kid, all excited over seeing something he’s never seen before and I know he’s never seen anything like this before” (John Wolcott).  He finished his day with relatively small and casual dinner at Canlis with a number of Northwestern leaders and businessmen. 

A Successful Visit

Deng woke up with a cold on Monday, February 5, which forced him to bow out of a planned breakfast with Northwest publishers and editors at the Washington Plaza Hotel.  Instead he traveled to Boeing field, where shortly before 9:30 a.m. he gave a brief speech (in a driving rainstorm) before departing. 

Deng thanked President Carter and the American people for their hospitality, and concluded “We feel this visit has been successful” (The Seattle Times).  Judging by the glowing news reports of Deng and his visit, many of which remarked on his humor and amiability, this sentiment was shared by many.

Sources: Exploring Chinese History: Politics: Government Documents, “Joint Communiqué of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China,” website accessed April 10, 2008  (;  George Foster, “Teng Tours Seattle and Hails ‘Gateway to Orient,’” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  February 5, 1979, pp. A-1, A-12;  Svein Gilje and Steve Johnston, “Teng Ends Historic U.S. Visit,” The Seattle Times, February 5, 1979, p. A-1;  John Wolcott, “Teng’s Farewell,” The Everett Herald, February 5, 1979, pp. 1-A, 2-A;  Jim Casey, “I Talked to a VIP and It Wasn’t Teng,” Ibid., February 5, 1979, p. 2-A.
Note: This essay was updated on January 29, 2015.

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