Ping Pong Diplomacy

Ping Pong Diplomacy

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Encyclopedia
Ping pong diplomacy refers to the exchange of ping pong
Table tennis
Table tennis, also known as ping-pong, is a sport in which two or four players hit a lightweight, hollow ball back and forth using table tennis rackets. The game takes place on a hard table divided by a net...

 players between the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 (PRC) in the 1970s. The event marked a thaw in U.S.–China relations
Sino-American relations
For the article on U.S.-Taiwan relations, see Republic of China – United States relations.Sino-American or People's Republic of China–United States relations refers to international relations between the United States of America and the government of People's Republic of China...

 that paved the way to a visit to Beijing by President Richard Nixon
1972 Nixon visit to China
U.S. President Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to the People's Republic of China was an important step in formally normalizing relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. It marked the first time a U.S. president had visited the PRC, who at that time considered the U.S. one...

.

History


The U.S. Table Tennis team was in Nagoya, Japan in 1971 for the 31st World Table Tennis Championship on April 6 when they received an invitation to visit China. From the early years of the People's Republic, sports had played an important role in diplomacy, often incorporating the slogan "Friendship First, Competition Second". On April 10,1971 the team and accompanying journalists became the first American sports delegation to set foot in the Chinese capital since 1949. The meeting was facilitated by the National Committee on United States – China Relations. Prior to the visit by the American table tennis players, eleven Americans were admitted into the PRC for one week because they all professed affiliation with the international Black Panther Party
Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party wasan African-American revolutionary leftist organization. It was active in the United States from 1966 until 1982....

 and China viewed the international organization as an organization fighting for human equality. This was unusual, given that high-profile American citizens such as Senator Eugene McCarthy
Eugene McCarthy
Eugene Joseph "Gene" McCarthy was an American politician, poet, and a long-time member of the United States Congress from Minnesota. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949 to 1959 and the U.S. Senate from 1959 to 1971.In the 1968 presidential election, McCarthy was the first...

 expressed interest in visiting China after the 1968 presidential election, but even he could not have a trip arranged for him despite his office.

According to History of U.S. Table Tennis by American table tennis player Tim Boggan
Tim Boggan
Joseph R. "Tim" Boggan is an American table tennis player, official, and historian.In 1971, Boggan travelled to China as an official attached to the US Table Tennis team. The visit, referred to as 'ping pong diplomacy' by the media, marked a thawing in US-China relations.In 1985, he was inducted...

, who went to China along with the U.S. Table Tennis Team, three incidents may have triggered the invitation from China. Welshman
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 H. Roy Evans, then President of the International Table Tennis Federation
International Table Tennis Federation
The International Table Tennis Federation is the governing body for all national table tennis associations.-Founding history:The ITTF was founded in 1926, the nine founding members being Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary, India, Sweden and Wales...

, claimed that he visited China prior to the 31st World Table Tennis Championship and suggested to the Chinese sports authorities and Premier Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

 that China should take steps to get in contact with the world through international sport events after the Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

. Further, the American player Leah "Miss Ping" Neuberger
Leah Neuberger
Leah Thall-Neuberger , nicknamed Miss Ping, was an American table tennis player.Leah Thall-Neuberger was ranked the # 3 table tennis player in the world in 1951.-Table tennis career:...

, the 1956 World Mixed Doubles Champion and nine-time U.S. Open Women's Singles Champion, was traveling at the time with the Canadian Table Tennis Team that had been invited by China to visit the country. China diplomatically extended its approval of Leah Neuberger's application for a visa to the entire American team. The third incident, perhaps the most likely trigger, was the unexpected but dramatic meeting between the flamboyant American player Glenn Cowan
Glenn Cowan
Glenn L. Cowan was an American table tennis player, and arguably one of two critical personalities, the other being the Chinese table tennis player Zhuang Zedong, in the 1971 Ping Pong Diplomacy which served as a prelude to the normalization of the Sino-American relations.Cowan, a former Santa...

 and the Chinese player Zhuang Zedong, a three-time world champion and winner of many other table tennis events. Zhuang Zedong described the incident in a 2007 talk at the USC U.S.-China Institute.

The events leading up to the encounter began when Glenn Cowan missed his team bus one afternoon after his practice in Nagoya during the 31st World Table Tennis Championship. Cowan had been practicing for 15 minutes with the Chinese player, Liang Geliang
Liang Geliang
Liang Geliang is a male former table tennis player from China. From 1971 to 1979 he won several medals in singles, doubles, and team events in the Asian Table Tennis Championships and in the World Table Tennis Championships.-References:...

, when a Japanese official came and wanted to close the training area. As Cowan looked in vain for his team bus, a Chinese player waved to him to get on his Chinese team bus. Moments after his casual talking through an interpreter to the Chinese players, Zhuang Zedong came up from his back seat to greet him and presented him with a silk-screen portrait of Huangshan Mountains
Huangshan Mountains
Huangshan , is a mountain range in southern Anhui province in eastern China. The range composed of material that was uplifted from an ancient sea during the Mesozoic era, 100 million years ago. The mountains themselves were carved by glaciers during the Quaternary...

, a famous product from Hangzhou. Cowan wanted to give something back, but all he could find from his bag was a comb. The American hesitantly replied, "I can't give you a comb. I wish I could give you something, but I can't." When it was time for them to get off the bus, hordes of photographers and journalists were waiting for them. In the political climate of the 1960s, the sight of an athlete of Communist China with an athlete of the United States was sure to garner attention. Glenn Cowan later bought a T-shirt with a red, white and blue, peace emblem
Peace symbol
A number of peace symbols have been used in various cultures and contexts, one of the most ancient being the olive branch. The dove and olive branch was used by early Christians and was later adopted as a secular symbol. It was popularised by Pablo Picasso in 1949 and became widely used in the...

 flag and the words "Let It Be," which he presented to Zhuang Zedong at another chance meeting.

When a journalist asked Cowan, "Mr. Cowan, would you like to visit China?", he answered, "Well, I'd like to see any country I haven't seen before--Argentina, Australia, China, ... Any country I haven't seen before." "But what about China in particular? Would you like to go there?" "Of course," said Glenn Cowan.

During an interview in 2002 with the famous TV personality Chen Luyu
Chen Luyu
Chen Luyu , born 12 June 1970, is a famous Chinese anchor and host affiliated with Phoenix Television. She has been likened as "China's Oprah" owing to the popularity of her talk show.She is currently the host of the talk show programme A Date With Luyu....

, Zhuang Zedong told more of the story: "The trip on the bus took 15 minutes, and I hesitated for 10 minutes. I grew up with the slogan 'Down with the American imperialism!' And during the Cultural Revolution
Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, commonly known as the Cultural Revolution , was a socio-political movement that took place in the People's Republic of China from 1966 through 1976...

, the string of class struggle was tightened unprecedentedly, and I was asking myself, 'Is it okay to have anything to do with your No. 1 enemy?'" Zhuang recalled remembering that Chairman Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 met Edgar Snow
Edgar Snow
Edgar P. Snow was an American journalist known for his books and articles on Communism in China and the Chinese Communist revolution...

 on the Rostrum of Tiananmen
Tiananmen
The Tiananmen, Tian'anmen or Gate of Heavenly Peace is a famous monument in Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China. It is widely used as a national symbol. First built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, Tian'anmen is often referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City...

 on the National Day
National Day
The National Day is a designated date on which celebrations mark the nationhood of a nation or non-sovereign country. This nationhood can be symbolized by the date of independence, of becoming republic or a significant date for a patron saint or a ruler . Often the day is not called "National Day"...

 in 1970 and said to Snow that China should now place its hope on American people.
Zhuang looked in his bag and first went through some pins, badges with Mao's head
Chairman Mao badge
Chairman Mao badge is the name given to a type of pin badge displaying an image of Mao Zedong that was ubiquitous in the People's Republic of China during the early period of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1971. The term is also used for badges associated with Mao that do not actually have...

, silk handkerchiefs, and fans. But he felt these were not decent enough to be a good gift. He finally picked the said silk portrait of Huangshan Mountains. On the following day, many Japanese newspapers carried photographs of Zhuang Zedong and Glenn Cowan.

When the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs received a report that the U.S. Table Tennis Team hoped to get invited to visit China, as usual, the Department declined. Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the People's Republic of China, serving from October 1949 until his death in January 1976...

 and Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 initially agreed with the decision, but when Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

 saw the news in Dacankao, a newspaper accessible only to high-ranking government officials, he decided to invite the U.S. Table Tennis Team. It was reported that Mao Zedong said, "This Zhuang Zedong not only plays table tennis well, but is good at foreign affairs, and he has a mind for politics." On April 10, 1971, nine American players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 to the Chinese mainland and then spent their time during April 11–17 playing fun matches, touring the Great Wall and Summer Palace
Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is a palace in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water....

, and watching a ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

.

Legacy


During the week of June 9, 2008, a three-day Ping Pong Diplomacy event was held at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. Original members of both the Chinese and American ping pong teams from 1971 were present and competed again.

Reactions


One of the American players told reporters when he got back that the Chinese are very similar to people in the U.S. He said:


"The people are just like us. They are real, they're genuine, they got feeling. I made friends, I made genuine friends, you see. The country is similar to America, but still very different. It's beautiful. They got the Great Wall, they got plains over there. They got an ancient palace, the parks, there's streams, and they got ghosts that haunt; there's all kinds of, you know, animals. The country changes from the south to the north. The people, they have a, a unity. They really believe in their Maoism."

Nixon's visit



Two months after Richard Nixon's visit, Zhuang Zedong visited the U.S. as the head of a Chinese table-tennis delegation, April 12–30, 1972. Also on the itinerary were Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 and Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

. However, China's attempts to reach out to countries through "ping pong diplomacy" were not always successful, such as when the All Indonesia Table Tennis Association (PTMSI) refused China's invitation in October 1971, claiming that accepting the PRC's offer would improve the PRC's reputation. Because neither Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 athletes nor journalists appeared in China following the appearance of the American players and journalists, one speculation is that the act showed the equal scorn of both countries towards the USSR.

Additional reading

  • "Talking Points" (USC US-China Newsletter), July 22, 2011, looks at the fortieth anniversary of ping pong diplomacy, notes that the term was first used in 1901, and discusses how it was a bold bit of public diplomacy on China's part while China and the United States were engaged in back channel discussions.
  • Mathews, Jay. “The Strange Tale of American Attempts to Leap the Wall of China:The Strange History of American Attempts...To Breach the great Wall of China.” New York Times 18 Apr. 1971.
  • Schwartz, Harry. “Triangular Politics and China.” New York Times 19 Apr. 1971: 37. ProQuest. UCLA Young Research Library, Los Angeles, CA. 25 Jan. 2008
  • Wang Guanhua, ""Friendship First”: China’s Sports Diplomacy in the Cold War Era," Journal of American-East Asian Relations 12.3-4 (Fall-Winter 2003): 133-153.
  • Xu Guoqi, "The Sport of Ping-Pong Diplomacy," Ch. Five, in Olympic Dreams: China and Sports 1895-2008 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008 ISBN 9780674028401), pp. 117-163.

External links