What is Ping Pong Diplomacy?


When the communists came to power in China in 1949, all relations  between the United States and China ceased.  However, in the late sixties, after almost thirty years with no communication, China was looking to gain the United States as an ally when things became tense along their Russian and Middle Eastern borders 2 . At the Table Tennis World Championship in Nagoya, Japan, A number of coincidental meetings between players helped to stimulate interactions between the two countries in a friendly, non-political manner. For example, Chinese and American players ran into each other on a yacht when touring Japan, one player asked the Chinese when it was going to their turn to visit since, at the time, both England and Canada were invited to visit. Remarks like this were noted by Wang Zhaoyun (deputy head of the delegation) and reported back to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. After numerous negative responses, China finally agreed to a visit from the U.S. team scheduled for April 1971. The media surrounding the visit was surprisingly positive with headlines reading, "US Table Tennis Team Greeted Warmly in Peking," (Washington Post 11 April 1971) and "Peking Rarity: Americans-Chinese Amazed, Delighted at US Visitors," (Washington Post 12 April 1971)  7 . Since this visit had gone well, Nixon removed the twenty year embargo act on China and invited the Chinese to come visit the next year. Then Republican House leader Gerald Ford states that "... the visits were just what American diplomacy needed... Ping-Pong was an outside force that shook up the State Department bureaucrats and their static views of the world." Much more than just a sport in China, this was the first time that a significant change was made politically through sports competition and ordinary people 2.