Producer 1990 Institute 
Overview An unplanned encounter in 1971 between table tennis players from the United States and the People’s Republic of China set in motion a change in the U.S.-China relations that the political leaders from both countries desired but couldn’t find an opening to affect. The impact of the normalized relations between the U.S. and China is felt not just between the two countries but all around the world. “The Ping Pong Diplomacy – Can History Repeat Itself?” is a refresher about this chance encounter at Nagoya, Japan that led to the formal normalization of US – China relations in 1979. Fast forward 50 years and the rapid rise of China’s economic standing on the world stage has caused increased tensions between it and the United States. Both countries seem to be emphasizing their differences instead of finding common grounds to sustain the 50-year relationship. There are serious global health, environmental, and developmental issues that can only be addressed if the two largest economic powers work together and lead the world to solve them. The resources gathered for this video topic should help discussions on returning to a constructive U.S.-China dialogue. A good companion video for this Ping Pong Diplomacy video is “U.S. and China Seek Relationship Counseling: Technology in the Crosshairs” published by the 1990 Institute in February 2022. 

Time Codes:

00:00 Origin and History of Ping Pong

01:07 Ping Pong as a National Sport in China

01:48 How Ping Pong Diplomacy Started

04:08 Thawing Ice in US China Relationship

05:42 Impact of Ping Pong Diplomacy

06:06 US China Relationship Today

Publish Date June 17, 2022
For Teachers Downloadable Lesson Guide in word doc format

View Lesson Guide in pdf format

Reference Materials Read:

Nixon’s China Game, American Experience, January 31, 2000

A collection of short articles about the events surrounding the Ping Pong Diplomacy and short biography about the key people involved. 

How Richard Nixon’s visit to China 50 years ago changed Sino-US relations, by Han Huang and Dennis Wong, Published March 1, 2022, South China Morning Post 

An infographics piece from SCMP with timeline, statistics, and interactive map about the impact of the normalization of relationship between the U.S. and China. Good resource for teachers.

Shanghai (Joint) Communique between the United States and China,” February 27, 1972, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Staff Member Office Files (SMOF), President’s Personal Files (PPF), Box 73.

This is the 1st of the 3 communiques issued between the US and China. At this site, you can see the communique in its original form (scanned) and a transcribed version (easier to read). Second Communique was issued in December, 1978 in which the normalization of diplomatic relations were declared. The 3rd communique, aka August 17 Communique, was issued in 1982 on the issue of arms sales to Taiwan.

Nixon, Richard, Asia After Viet Nam, October 1967, Foreign Affairs article written by Richard Nixon republished by the U.S. State Department Office of the Historian

In this article, president Nixon articulated his view about continuing the role of the United States as a leading power, given the experience in Vietnam, not as a country where non-communist Asian countries should depend on militarily but as a leader in building up regional cooperation and alliances to counter potential nuclear threats of China and thus presaging the diplomatic opening to China. He believed isolating China will do more harm than bringing it into the family of nations. This is a long article and for those who do not want to read it in its entirety, start your reading from Section V, paragraph 6.

U.S. Relations with China, 1949 – 2022, by Council on Foreign Relations

This site gives a timeline of major U.S. – China events since 1949 that shaped the relations between the two countries. A good source for teachers to select events of the recent past and work with students to examine their impact on today’s US-China dynamics and discuss what might have been done to de-escalate the situation.   

Listen:

50 Years Later the Legacy of U.S.-China “Pingpong Diplomacy” Faces Challenges, April 10, 2021, John Ruwitch, NPR News 

A 4-minute podcast from NPR that recap the story of realignment of U.S.-China relations in 1971 and the challenges facing the two countries today as China flexes its wings as an economic powerhouse and gain recognition as a significant geopolitical player in the world.

A conversation with Ambassador Huang Ping, consul general of the P.R.C.’s New York Consulate, August 5, 2021, Sinica Podcast

Chinese Ambassador answers a series a questions posted by the podcast host, Kaiser Kuo, on U.S.-China relations from China’s perspective. Ambassador Huang was given the questions and prepared his answers before the podcast.

Watch:

Ping Pong Diplomacy: U.S.-China Exchange Then and Now, NCUSCR Webinar, Keisha Brown (host), Pete Millwood, Jing Tsu, April 18, 2022

Two scholars explain the behind the scene activities preceding the Ping Pong Diplomacy and their analysis of the actual involvements in those events; and how to get beyond the current tension in US-China relations.

Ping Pong Diplomacy 50 Years On – How table tennis players impacted US-China relations, Nov 24, 2021, CGTN America (CGTN is partially funded by Chinese Government.)

Books:

Griffin, Nicholas; Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World, Reprint edition on September 15, 2015, Skyhorse (Link to Amazon.com)

For those who want to do a deeper dive behind the political and policy calculations from both the U.S. and China that led to the invitation of the U.S. table tennis players to China in 1971 and the eventual normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Here is link to the Washington Post review of this book. 

Data Sources The History of Table Tennis, Cornilleau

Table Tennis in China, Facts and Detail, last updated June, 2015

Ping Pong Diplomacy – Artifacts from the Historic 1971 U.S. Table Tennis Trip to China, August 5, 2021, National Museum of American Diplomacy

Xia, Yafeng, The Cold War and Chinese Foreign Policy, July 16, 2008, E-International Relations

Erin Monroe, Erin, U.S.-China Relations: A Brief Historical Perspective, US-China Policy Foundation

A comprehensive chronology of U.S.-China relations, Timeline | Nixon’s China Game, American Experience, PBS

Millwood, Pete, The Myths and Realities of Ping-Pong Diplomacy, April 29, 2021, History Today

Szulc, Tad, U.S. Lifts Ban On China Travel, March 16, 1971, The New York Times

History of the U.S. and China, U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China

Andrews, Evan, How Ping-Pong Diplomacy Thawed the Cold War, original :April 8, 2016, Updated October 19, 2018, History

Ping Pong Diplomacy 50 Years On – How table tennis players impacted US-China relations, Nov 24, 2021, CGTN America (Partially funded by Chinese Government)

Commemorating the 5th Anniversary of the China-U.S. Young Scholars Forum: 2021 Special Event, April 10, 2021, ICGU (Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding,) Peking University 

Ma, Yihan; China-U.S. trade relations – statistics & facts, Mar 11, 2022, Statista

Foreign Trade – Trade in Goods with China, United Census Bureau

INTERVIEW: NCUSCR Vice President Jan Berris on Ping Pong Diplomacy, May 2022

Schlesinger, Joe; What China’s Ping Pong diplomacy taught us?, April 11, 2011, CBC News

Silver, Laura; Devlin, Kat; and Huang, Christine; Unfavorable Views of China Reach Historic Highs in Many Countries, October 6, 2020, Pew Research Center

Galston, William A.; A momentous shift in US public attitudes toward China, March 22, 2021, Bookings

Koop, Avery, China’s Economy: 40 Years of Soaring Exports, June 16, 2021, Visual Capitalist

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