Table Tennis in China Part II: A Political Perspective

Zhenyu LiContributor IIIJuly 28, 2012

Pingpong was an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Beijing.
Pingpong was an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Beijing.

Pingpong Today

As the national sport of China, pingpong is played by almost everyone in the country. Tables for the game, often made of concrete, are found throughout parks, in communities and public schools.

Although many young people today in China are gravitating toward basketball, soccer, or tennis, if they can afford it, pingpong remains a fixture in Chinese society.

"Chinese today have much more choice of what sports they can afford to play, but people still prefer pingpong," said Deng Yaping, one of the most celebrated Chinese players, who retired in 1997 at age 24 with four Olympic gold medals.

"Although it is a little sport, table tennis is very easy to play and does not require much space. The equipment is not expensive as well."


Pingpong Diplomacy

From a historical perspective, the sport played an important role in China's international relations.

In April 1971, the US table tennis team was invited to visit China. It was the first American sports delegation to visit China in years, launching the round of so-called pingpong diplomacy credited with warming relations during the Nixon administration.

Pingpong was "an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Beijing", noted a Time reporter, as each nation signaled, in turn, its openness to change.

"In the future, sports could play a more important role in diplomatic relations," said Deng, who made a successful political transition to become the Deputy Secretary-General of China's flagship newspaper, People's Daily.

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Zhenyu Li, a contributing columnist for some of the world's foremost sports publications, authors the "Beyond Gold" column for People's Daily Online in China.