Forty years after the historical table tennis exhibition matches which helped break the ice of the China-U.S. relations, Ping Pong Diplomacy is still warming the ties of the two countries.
A 15-member U.S. Ping Pong delegation, including some players coming to China in 1971, wrapped up their first stop schedule in Beijing and departed for Hangzhou on Friday evening for the rest of activities marking the 40th anniversary of the 1971 event in China.
"Forty years later, we recognized how sports initiated a mutually beneficial relationship and how far we have come since ping pong diplomacy took center-stage in 1971," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a message sent for the 40 anniversary celebration of the Ping Pong Diplomacy.
"Ping Pong Diplomacy reminds us that it is the interactions of our private citizens that helped bring us together and that continue to strengthen the ties that bind us together. I wish all participants another 40 years of successful sports diplomacy," she said.
The U.S. delegation arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a week-long visit. As part of the commemorations, a reception was hosted by China's vice president Xi Jinping on Thursday at the Great Hall of the People. And four friendly matches were played between the Chinese and American paddlers.
Among the visitors was Judy Hoarfrost, the youngest member of the original 1971 American team. She played in a mixed doubles match on Thursday afternoon.
"I didn't know what impact it would have on the world. I was just playing table tennis," recalled Hoarfrost, now 55, of Portland. "But I'm thrilled that ping pong and my part in ping pong has played a small role in diplomatic relations between the United States and China."
In 1971, nine American table tennis players, including the then 15-year-old Hoarfrost, had been playing in the world table tennis championships in Nagoya, Japan. Then, China invited the team to Beijing for a tour and exhibition games, helping break the ice between China and the United States.
In February 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon paid a visit to China. The two countries eventually forged diplomatic ties in 1979, and the exhibition games, coining the term of "Ping Pong Diplomacy", was reckoned the first public hints of improved U.S.-China relations.
"In sports, we have a common language that transcends national boundaries and cultural differences," said Hoarfrost.
Three-time world champion Wang Liqin of China was also a participant in Thursday's "rematch". The 33-year-old Chinese national said after the game,"I'm so excited and honored to be part of the Ping Pong Diplomacy commemoration."
At the other end of the table against Wang was the U.S. men's national champion Timothy Wang, a 20-year-old American-born-Chinese.
"My dad is from China, so China is kind of like my second home," he said. "It's a great opportunity for me to be able to play with some of the best players in the world."
Wang, who can speak Mandarin, has trained with Chinese coaches in the United States and China, and has been in China four times.
"Table tennis brought the U.S. and China together," he said. "Among athletes, I think, everybody is more open to being friends with everybody."
The U.S. delegation also includes Connie and Dell Sweeris, John Tannehill, all members of the 1971 American team, and other two younger players Fan Yiyong and Lily Yip, coach of the U.S. national junior team.
They will continue the trip in Hangzhou and Shanghai as part of the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. This summer, a Chinese delegation of 17-member visited the United States led by China's top table tennis official Cai Zhenhua.
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