Yao Dawei, Xinhua/AP
Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing , left, plays table tennis with former U.S. Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger, right, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Sunday,
March 18, 2001 (AP).

China and U.S. to Celebrate 'Pingpong Diplomacy'

June 12, 2008 12:07 PM
by Isabel Cowles
China and the United States will commemorate the moment when China extended a diplomatic olive branch in April 1971 by inviting U.S. athletes to play pingpong.

30-Second Summary

During the week of June 9, the United States and China will celebrate the historic event known as “pingpong diplomacy” by gathering at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace. Some of the table-tennis competitors who were invited to China in 1971 will be among the celebrants.

On April 6, 1971, nine U.S. pingpong players and five American journalists were unexpectedly invited to China. Their visit marked the first time Americans had been allowed into China since the Communist takeover in 1949.

One of the players explained his experience: “We were very naive about the whole thing. For us, it was an opportunity to go to China ... to try to learn some of their skills and techniques that we could apply to our game," he said.

Others were not so naïve. Richard Nixon and his secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, recognized the diplomatic opportunity underlying the pingpong invitation.

On February 21, 1972, President Nixon traveled to China on a “week-long summit aimed at ending 20 years of frosty relations between the two countries,” the BBC reported.

Headline Link: Festivities planned at Nixon Library

Background: Pingpong helps thaw U.S.-China relations

Related Topic: Nixon visits China

Reference: Profiles of China and the Nixon administration

The Nixon administration

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