Ping-pong diplomacy returning to campus after 25 years
BY JANET BASU
It was the first volley in the game of high-stakes negotiations that ended the Cold War between the United States and China. An improbable team of diplomats U.S. table tennis players were invited on a spur-of-the-moment tour of China in 1971, the first officially sanctioned visit by Americans since the beginning of communist rule in 1949.
A year later, members of the Chinese national table tennis team toured the United States for a series of "Friendship First" matches. The last match was held before a standing-room-only crowd in Stanford's Maples Pavilion.
Twenty-five years later, at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 27, Maples Pavilion will be the site of a silver anniversary celebration of this "ping-pong diplomacy." Olympic gold medalists and members of the 1997 Chinese national team will play exhibition matches against top California players. Two players who played at Stanford in 1972 Robert Shur, a student at the time, and former Chinese champion Liang Geliang will stage a re-match.
A reception at the Stanford Faculty Club at 7:15 p.m. on Monday, July 28, will feature a speech by John C. Lungren Jr., international marketing director of the California state Office of Trade and Commerce, speaking on increased opportunities for trans-Pacific interaction. Chinese officials and members of the original 1972 national team also will tour the Bay Area, including visits to Silicon Valley companies.
The Stanford tourney was arranged by the group Northern California Table Tennis Events and the Stanford Center for East Asian Studies, with the support of USA Table Tennis and the San Jose-based magazine Pacific Rim Business Journal. Organizers said they hoped the event would serve as a boost to improve U.S.-China relations on the eve of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's planned visit to the United States in October.
Stanford is the second stop in a four-city tour organized by the Chinese Table Tennis Association that also includes New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu. The association has received letters of congratulations from Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, and from former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who reportedly has accepted an invitation to a reception at the United Nations during the New York visit.
Ping-pong diplomacy was a watershed in Chinese-American relationships the opening that led to high-level negotiations between the Nixon administration and the Chinese government, according to Julian Chang, assistant director of the Stanford Center for East Asian Studies. In the previous few years, China's rivalry with the Soviet Union had escalated to the point of pitched battles on the nations' common borderline, and Chang said officials seized on table tennis as a way to reach out to the West.
In April 1971, when U.S. table tennis players joined an international tournament in Nagoya, Japan, they were invited to continue on to China. Chang said that the invitation almost certainly came on orders from Chairman Mao Tse-tung himself. Afterward, Time magazine quoted Premier Chou En-lai as saying: "Never before in history has a sport been used so effectively as a tool of international diplomacy."
In mid-July, U.S. President Nixon reciprocated by sending Kissinger on a covert mission to meet with Chinese leaders. Later that month, Nixon announced he would go to China himself. Official U.S. diplomatic recognition of China was delayed until 1979, but by the time Chinese table-tennis players toured American cities in April 1972, the stage was being set for normalized relations between the two countries.
Chang said that lately, U.S.-Chinese relations have been strained by disputes about China's trade surplus with the United States, China's human rights record and weapons sales, and by allegations of attempts to use campaign financing to interfere with the American political process. "This is an opportunity to re-visit the relationship between the two nations and to remember the goodwill of ping-pong diplomacy," he said.
The Chinese delegation will be led by Zhang Xielin, vice president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association and an original 1972 tour member. Xu Yinsheng, the president of the International Table Tennis Federation and vice chairman of the Chinese state sports commission, will join the delegation as a special guest. China's national team head coach, Cai Zhenhua, and several members of the original 1972 "Friendship First" tour are also slated to come. The entire tour will be recorded by a film crew for broadcast to Chinese audiences in August.
Among the Chinese players at the Maples Pavilion exhibition will be Deng Yaping, considered the best woman table tennis player in history, according to tournament organizer Dennis Davis, the U.S. national table tennis coaching chairman. A world champion since 1991, Deng won two gold medals each in the 1996 and 1992 Olympics. The men's team will be led by Liu Guoliang, 1997 world men's team champion and a double gold medalist at the 1996 Olympics. They will be joined by Yang Ying and Ding Song, members, respectively, of the women's and men's '97 world champion teams.
The Northern California team includes Khoa Nguyen of San Jose, a U.S. men's world team member from 1987 to 1995; Shashin Shodhan of Fremont, a 1996 U.S. high school boy's champion who is now a sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley; Tawny Banh of Los Angeles, a 1997 U.S. women's world team member, and Michelle Do of Milpitas, who currently ranks No. 1 among U.S. girl players under 16.
The table tennis matches are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 27, at Stanford's Maples Pavilion. Tickets may be purchased by phone at (510) 601-8932 or (408) 287-5680, on the web at www.ticketweb.com. The reception is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Monday, July 28, at the Stanford Faculty Club. Reception tickets may be purchased by calling (415) 964-6130. SR
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Wide Web, visit the ping-pong diplomacy site, the Center for East Asian Studies site, or the Stanford