Table tennis is a game enjoyed by millions of individuals both young and old around the world. It also happens to be a world recognized sport with a place in the Olympics and competitions held regularly every year. The game is so popular, in fact, that table tennis sport fans have used the game to bridge the gap between the most antagonistic foreign relations enemies. This phenomenon actually enabled one of the most important cultural exchanges between the United States and China in the 1970s in an event known colloquially as Ping Pong Diplomacy. |
History of the Sport
Table tennis and ping pong have been popular in both the United States and China for many years. Both teams have been long term members of the International Table Tennis Federation, with the United States joining in joining in the 1930s and China becoming a member in the 1950s. Despite genial sports relationships, political pressures between the two nations kept either national team from visiting or competing against one another throughout much of the Cold War. In 1971, though, Ping Pong Diplomacy offered a chance for those relations to thaw.
Ping Pong Diplomacy
As US players and table tennis sport fans visited Japan for the World Table Tennis Championship on April 6, 1971, the Chinese table tennis and ping pong players reached out to their American competitors. The Chinese team invited the US team and their accompanying reporters to enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to China. The American team accepted, and that single invitation paved the way for a dialogue between US and Chinese politicians. Richard Nixon even accepted an offer to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong to discuss relations between the two countries.
All for love of the sport, the US removed a 20-year-long embargo against China, the nation’s leaders began to meet on a semi-regular basis, and international tensions began to ease. Though relations between the two countries were by no means patched, Ping Pong Diplomacy did enable an international conversation between two of the world’s superpowers. Today, the table tennis sport teams still enjoy a healthy rivalry, even when their respective countries fail to get along. It all goes to support the healing powers of sport and the much beloved game of ping pong.
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