Ping-pong diplomacy

Ping-pong diplomacy (Chinese: 乒乓外交 Pīngpāng wàijiāo) refers to the exchange of table tennis (ping-pong) players between the United States and People's Republic of China (PRC) in the early 1970s. The event marked a thaw in Sino-American relations that paved the way to a visit to Beijing by President Richard Nixon.



The United States viewed the People's Republic of China as an aggressor nation and enforced an economic containment policy including an embargo on the PRC, following its entry into the Korean War in 1950. After approximately 20 years of neither diplomatic nor economic relations, both countries finally saw an advantage in opening up to each other: China viewed closer relations with the United States as a beneficial counter to its increasingly tense relationship with the Soviet Union, while the U.S. sought closer relations with China as leverage in its peace negotiations with North Vietnam.

"[T]he thirty-first World Table Tennis Championships, held in Nagoya, Japan, provided an opportunity for both China and the United States."[1]


The U.S. Table Tennis team was in Nagoya, Japan in 1971 for the 31st World Table Tennis Championships 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". During the isolationist years, athletes were among the few PRC nationals who were allowed to travel overseas. On April 10, 1971, the team and accompanying journalists became the first American delegation to set foot in the Chinese capital since 1949.[2] 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 Black Panther Party which followed a Maoist political line.[3] This was unusual, given that high-profile American citizens such as Senator Eugene McCarthy 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 Tim Boggan, who went to China along with the U.S. Table Tennis Team, three incidents may have triggered their invitation from China. Welshman H. Roy Evans, then President of the International Table Tennis Federation, claimed that he visited China prior to the 31st World Table Tennis Championship and suggested to non-Chinese sports authorities and Premier Zhou Enlai that China should take steps to get in contact with the world through international sport events after the Cultural Revolution. Furthermore, the American player Leah "Miss Ping" Neuberger, 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 and the Chinese player Zhuang Zedong, a three-time world champion and winner of many other table tennis events. Zhuang Zedong described the incident[4] 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, 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, 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." This World Table Tennis Championships marked the return of China's participation after a six-year absence. When the Chinese team and Cowan walked off the bus, journalists who were following the Chinese team took photographs.[5] 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 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, 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, 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 met Edgar Snow on the Rostrum of Tiananmen on the 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, silk handkerchiefs, and fans. But he felt these were not decent enough to be a good gift. He finally picked the 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, the Department declined as usual. Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong initially agreed with the decision, but when Mao Zedong 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."[6] On April 10, 1971, nine American players, four officials, and two spouses stepped across a bridge from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland and then spent their time during April 11–17 playing fun matches, touring the Great Wall and Summer Palace, and watching a ballet.


  • During the week of July 8, 2011, 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.
  • In 1988, table tennis became an Olympic sport.
  • Ping-pong diplomacy was referenced in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. After suffering injuries in battle, Forrest develops an aptitude for the sport and joins the U.S. Army team—eventually competing against Chinese teams on a goodwill tour.


Upon his return to the United States, one of the American players told reporters that the Chinese were 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.[7]

Nixon's visit

Nixon at an athletic exhibition in Peking - NARA - 194757
Nixon attending a ping-pong exhibition in Beijing.

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, Mexico and Peru. 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 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.


Ping-pong diplomacy was successful and resulted in opening the U.S.-PRC relationship, leading the U.S. to lift the embargo against China on June 10, 1971. On February 28, 1972, during President Nixon and Henry Kissinger's visit to Shanghai, the Shanghai Communique was issued between the U.S. and the PRC. The Communique noted that both nations would work towards the normalization of their relations. Furthermore, the U.S. recognized that Taiwan is a part of China and agreed not to interfere in issues between China and Taiwan.

1991 united Korean Team

Another example of Ping Pong Diplomacy occurred during the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan, where a unified Korean team played together for the first time since the Korean War.

The diplomatic efforts leading to the formation of this unified team were led by then-International Table Tennis Federation President, Ichiro Ogimura.

Prior to the championships, Ogimura visited South Korea 20 times and traveled to North Korea 15 times to plead for a unified team from the Korean peninsula. Ogimura also worked with local Japanese government heads to create joint training camps in the cities of Nagano, Nagaoka and Chiba, and secured agreement from the ITTF for North Korea and South Korea to compete under the unified name of “Korea”.

The Korean team played under a white flag depicting the Korean peninsula in blue and used the Korean folksong, Arirang, rather than the national anthem of either the North or the South.

The competition saw the Korean team win one gold medal, one silver and two bronze medals.

This action has since been repeated. At the 2018 World Team Table Tennis Championships, the two Koreas entered separate teams in the competition but, when they were paired against each other at the quarter-final of the women's event, they negotiated instead to field a joint team for the semi-final.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Jiaqi, Yan; Gao, Gao (1996). Turbulent Decade: A History of the Cultural Revolution. University of Hawaii Press. p. 433. ISBN 978-0-8248-1695-7.
  2. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (1985). Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World. New York, NY: Random House Digital, Inc. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-8129-7057-9.
  3. ^ Baggins, Brian (2002). "History of the Black Panther Party". Retrieved May 20, 2017.
  4. ^ Huang, Rune-Wen; Gants, Connor (March 7, 2008). "Diplomacy in the Sports Arena". US-China Today. USC US-China Institute. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  5. ^ "From Ping Pong Diplomacy to the Beijing Games". Team USA. June 12, 2008. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  6. ^ "Ping-Pong Diplomacy and a Changing World [ ChinesePod Weekly ]". The Official ChinesePod Blog. April 11, 2012. Archived from the original on May 15, 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  7. ^ "1971 Year in Review, Foreign Policy: Red China and Russia". UPI Year in Review 1970-1979. United Press International. Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  8. ^ "Table Tennis Diplomacy that Brought the Koreas Together". June 12, 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2018.

Further 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.
  • Itoh, Mayumi (2011). The Origin of Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Forgotten Architect of Sino-U.S. Rapprochement. Palgrave-MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-230-11813-3.
  • Mathews, Jay. "The Strange Tale of American Attempts to Leap the Wall of China". The New York Times, 18 April 1971.
  • Schwartz, Harry. "Triangular Politics and China". The New York Times, 19 April 1971: 37.
  • 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 978-0-674-02840-1), pp. 117–163.

External links

1967 World Table Tennis Championships

The 1967 World Table Tennis Championships were held at the Johanneshovs Isstadion in Stockholm from April 11 to April 21, 1967.During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese sports professionals were denounced as 'Sprouts of Revisionism' and were denied places at the 1967 World Table Tennis Championships and 1969 World Table Tennis Championships. Players such as Jung Kuo-tuan were persecuted and he committed suicide in 1968. Had China competed in those championships and not lost the impetus gained in the previous decade they would surely have continued to dominate the World Championships.

1969 World Table Tennis Championships

The 1969 World Table Tennis Championships were held in Munich from April 17 to April 27, 1969. It was the 30th edition to be contested.

During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese sports professionals were denounced as 'Sprouts of Revisionism and were denied places at the 1967 World Table Tennis Championships and 1969 World Table Tennis Championships. Players such as Jung Kuo-tuan were persecuted and he committed suicide in 1968. Had China competed in both championships and not lost the impetus gained in the previous decade they would surely have dominated the World Championships.

1971 World Table Tennis Championships

The 1971 World Table Tennis Championships (31st) were held in Nagoya from March 28 to April 7, 1971.The Chinese players returned following a lengthy absence.

Boggan (disambiguation)

The term boggan may refer to:

Boggan, a species in the role-playing game Changeling: The Dreaming

Jimmy Boggan (1938—2009), mentor for the Dublin hurling team

Tim Boggan, table tennis player, USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame member, part of the Ping Pong Diplomacy exchange program

Rex Boggan (1930—1985), American football player

Capital Indoor Stadium

The Capital Indoor Stadium (simplified Chinese: 首都体育馆; traditional Chinese: 首都體育館; pinyin: Shǒudū Tǐyùguǎn) is an indoor arena in 56 Zhongguancun South Street, Beijing, China that was built in 1968. It hosted matches between national table tennis teams of China and the United States in 1971; these matches were part of the exchange program known as ping pong diplomacy.It has a capacity of 17,345 and a floor space of 54,707 square meters expanded from the old 53,000. It was renovated in 2001 to become a venue for the 2001 Summer Universiade.

The stadium hosted one of the first NBA games in China, hosted on October 17, 2004 in front of a sellout capacity of 17,903. It also hosted the first-ever professional football game featuring all-stars from the Arena Football League to help promote the new AFL China league (now known as the China Arena Football League.Capital Indoor Stadium has undergone a new renovation and expansion that was completed in late 2007 for the 2008 Summer Olympics, where it hosted volleyball tournaments.The venue is also used for figure skating, curling and ice hockey, which will also be used for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Chargé de mission

Chargé de Mission (Fr. for "in charge of mission"), the title of a class of diplomatic envoy. This type of post is created by an Embassy to undertake a specific diplomatic project abroad on behalf of a Head of Mission or Government. Most often, the project is economic or humanitarian in nature.

Consular corps

Consular corps (from French: Corps consulaire and commonly abbreviated CC) is a concept analogous to diplomatic corps, but concerning the staff, estates and work of a consulate.

"While ambassadors and diplomatic staff are devoted to bettering all categories of the bilateral relationship with the host country, the consular corps is in charge of looking after their own foreign nationals in the host country."

Diplomatic courier

A diplomatic courier is an official who transports diplomatic bags as sanctioned under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Couriers are granted diplomatic immunity and are thereby protected by the receiving state from arrest and detention when performing their work. Couriers may be assigned on an ad hoc basis, but in those cases they are released from immunity once their bags have been delivered. All couriers are provided documentation that reports their status as couriers and the number of packages currently being transported in the diplomatic bag. Diplomatic bags may be transported under the authority of commercial airline captains, but they are not diplomatic couriers.

Dual accreditation

Dual accreditation is the practice in diplomacy of a country granting two separate responsibilities to a single diplomat. One prominent form of dual accreditation is for a diplomat to serve as the ambassador to two countries concurrently. For example, Luxembourg's Ambassador to the United States is also the non-resident Ambassador to Canada and the non-resident Ambassador to Mexico.

Such an Ambassador may sometimes be called Ambassador-at-Large.

Glenn Cowan

Glenn L. Cowan (August 25, 1952 – April 6, 2004) 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 Monica College student, died in 2004. He had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and underwent a bypass surgery. During the surgery, he went into a coma and died of a heart attack.

Zhuang Zedong called from Beijing to express his sympathy, and in 2007 visited

the United States, and met Cowan's mother. He called never seeing Cowan again the greatest "regret of my life."

Ichiro Ogimura

Ichiro Ogimura (荻村 伊智朗, Ogimura Ichiro, June 25, 1932 – December 4, 1994) was a Japanese table tennis player, coach, president of the ITTF and former World No. 1 who won 12 World Championship titles during his career. Ogimura was also a key figure in the Ping Pong Diplomacy events of the early 1970s, as well as being instrumental in Korea playing as a unified team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships.

John Winsell Davies

John Winsell Davies (Russian: Джон Винселл Дэйвиз), is one of the three Davies sons who own the world-renowned Schramsberg Vineyards (California State Historic Landmark 561) and J. Davies Winery Estates in St. Helena, Napa Valley. Founded in 1862, the winery grew in fame when President Richard Nixon toasted Chinese Secretary General Cho En-lai in The Great Hall of the People in the ground-breaking "Ping Pong Diplomacy" of 1972 and later in Moscow with Soviet Party Leader Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev (Russian: Леонид Ильич Брежнев) in the Cold War-ending Détente Peace Accords.

Mir Khasim Ali

Mir Khasim Ali born in Hyderabad, A.P. was India's Men's Singles Champion in table tennis from 1968 to 1969. He was honoured with the prestigious Arjuna award.

Ali began playing table tennis in 1960 at the age of 11. He was the National Junior Champion in 1963, the National Senior Champion in 1968 and 1969, runner-up in the Commonwealth Championships of the Afro-Asian Championships in 1971 and a member of the Indian T.T. team from 1966 to 1973.

His first trip abroad representing India was to East Africa in 1966. Also in 1966 in Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was then called) where the South Zone Inter-University Championships were held. Khasim represented Osmania University, which lost in the finals to Bombay University, thanks to U.S. Gurjar who pulled off an upset win over Khasim.

Gurjar repeated the feat in the Madras Nationals in December 1966. He was National Champion in 1968 and 1969 and runner-up in 1970. In 1971 he met Zhou Enlai and was present during the Ping Pong Diplomacy between China and the United States. During his heyday, Andhra Pradesh reached the finals of the National team events on nine occasions, winning the title once, and until 1973 he was an automatic choice in the Indian team.


Parley is a discussion or conference, especially one between enemies over terms of a truce or other matters. The word is derived from French parler, "to speak".

During the 18th and 19th centuries, attacking an enemy during a parley was considered one of the grossest breaches of the rules of war. The British Army was accused of multiple parley violations during the American Revolutionary War, specifically arresting Continental Army officers engaged in negotiations as traitors in addition to hanging uniformed despatch riders as spies.

Preventive diplomacy

Preventive diplomacy is action to prevent disputes from arising between parties, to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur.Since the end of the Cold War the international community through international institutions has been focusing on preventive diplomacy. As the United Nations and regional organizations as well as global and regional powers discovered the high costs of managing conflict, there is a strong common perception of benevolence of preventive diplomacy. Preventive diplomacy actions can be implemented by the UN, regional organizations, NGO networks and individual states. One of the examples of preventive diplomacy is the UN peacekeeping mission in Macedonia (UNPREDEP) in 1995–1999. It was the first UN preventive action.

Preventive measures include: conflict early warning, fact-finding, confidence-building measures, early deployment, humanitarian assistance, and demilitarized zones.

Resident Representative

A resident representative is the head of a United Nations agency (such as UNDP, UNICEF, WHO) in a given country. As such, the resident representative has the same rank as an ambassador of a foreign state accredited to that country, under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

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 into the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame. In 1996, he received the Hall of Fame's Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the organisation's resident historian.

Trade commissioner

For the European Union post, see European Commissioner for TradeTrade commissioner is the title of a government official whose primary duties are to promote international trade agreements and export trade programs on behalf of a national or regional government authority. Such envoys are normally posted abroad, often being permanently resident in the country or region to which they have been assigned, but in some cases are locally engaged employees. If assigned by an authority or organization lacking sovereignty, or if a local employee, a trade commissioner may not enjoy diplomatic status. The title Trade Commissioner is also used by some international organizations for the senior official responsible for trade.

Zhuang Zedong

Zhuang Zedong (Chuang Tse-tung; August 25, 1940 – February 10, 2013) was a Chinese table tennis player, three-time world men's singles champion and champion at numerous other table tennis events and a well-known political personality during the tumult of the Cultural Revolution. His chance meeting with American table tennis player, Glenn Cowan, during the 31st World Table Tennis Championship, later referred to as ping-pong diplomacy, triggered the first thawing of the ice in Sino-American relations since 1949. Zhuang was once married to the pianist Bao Huiqiao, and his second wife was the Chinese-born Japanese Atsuko Sasaki (佐々木敦子).

Frozen conflicts
Foreign policy
See also

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