50 years on, Ping-Pong Diplomacy still elevates China-US ties
World champion Liang Geliang had probably not expected that 50 years after "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" occurred, he and American counterpart Judy Hoarfrost would be able to play a table tennis game over 10,000 kilometers apart.
A commemorative event marking the 50th anniversary of "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" was held at the Shougang Park here on Saturday, the second time that China has celebrated the historic period in a fortnight.
Over 400 people from the two countries, including many historical witnesses, attended this event, paying tribute to the great historic event as well as to carry forward the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.
Thanks to advanced technologies, a VR Ping-Pong game between Liang and Hoarfrost was made a reality. Perhaps fittingly, given the theme of "Friendship First," the match ended in a 2-2 tie.
MARKING A HISTORIC PERIOD
The commemorative event was jointly hosted by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), China's General Administration of Sport and China-U.S. People's Friendship Association.
At the conclusion of the 31st World Championships in Nagoya, Japan, at the invitation of the Chinese table tennis team, the U.S. table tennis team arrived on April 10, 1971, to commence their visit to China, becoming the first U.S. group to visit since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
Three months later, then U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger paid a secret visit to China.
"The 50th anniversary of the invitation to the American Ping-Pong team to China marked a significant and nostalgic event," Kissinger said in a video speech at Saturday's event.
"The significance of the event is that a number of little steps are sometimes needed to make great conclusions," he added.
The Chinese team paid a return visit the following year. The mutual visits broke the ice in two decades of estranged China-U.S. relations and eventually led to the normalization of bilateral ties.
Li Furong, then a member of the Chinese team, recalled the scene prior to their departure.
"The guiding principle of 'Friendship First' means that table tennis is not just a sport, but rather its implications have been broadened. 50 years later, 'Ping-Pong Diplomacy' is able to continue its functions in making friends and making greater contributions to friendship between the two peoples," he noted.
Liang noted that "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" reflected a common aspiration of the people for a better life.
"Ping-Pong Diplomacy not only enhanced the friendship between the Chinese and American peoples through sincere and friendly exchanges between table tennis players of the two countries, but also demonstrated the exceptional political wisdom and strategic vision of leaders of the older generation, who rose above differences in ideology and kept up with the trend of the times," commented Lin Songtian, President of the CPAFFC.
A WIDER RANGE OF FRIENDSHIP
Among Saturday's attendees were those from other sports while sharing a common feature as they were involved in sports in the two countries.
"Although we come from different countries and speak different languages, when we play the same game on the floor, we got chance to know each other. We can also take part in various activities before or after the game as opportunities to learn about each other," said Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) President Yao Ming, who spent a decade playing in the NBA.
By contrast, New Yorker Stephon Marbury played in the CBA for nine seasons before retiring and becoming the head coach of the Beijing Royal Fighters.
"As long as we have sports and it's in existence, it's always an opportunity for us to continue to work together," said Marbury.
For him, basketball can help in overcoming cultural differences between the two countries.
"It can play a part. We still have to continue to educate the people from America and people from China, trying to get them to understand both cultures."
In terms of winter sports, as the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games approach, China is ready to garner worldwide attention with less than one year to go.
Figure skating world champion Chen Lu said the arrival of Beijing 2022 will boost cultural exchanges between China and other countries.
"Olympics is a grand sporting event, and top athletes of all countries will gather here. It will facilitate an overall development of the winter sports in China," she noted.
CARRY ON PING-PONG DIPLOMACY
"Ping-Pong Diplomacy" played a significant part in breaking the ice of Sino-U.S. relations, and still resonates half a century later.
Liu Guoliang, the Chinese Table Tennis Association (CTTA) President, said besides a self-development, China also needs to shoulder the responsibility for advancing the development of world table tennis.
"Table tennis not just belongs to China, but to the world as a whole. As China is a table tennis powerhouse, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and World Table Tennis (WTT) need our support and help."
For Yao, exchange is the only way to neutralize the misunderstandings between different cultures.
"We need to set up a platform for exchanges, and sports can become a bridge in this process. It feels like I'm not familiar with you, but if we have got a chance to conduct more communication, whether playing basketball or table tennis, I will be more familiar with you," he said.
"Sports is a common language of human beings," said Li Jianming, deputy director of China's General Administration of Sport. "It has a special role in promoting understanding and friendship between peoples from different countries, and enhancing different cultures' integration and mutual reference."
"Table tennis is a carrier. We pass on positive things through table tennis and sports, and it needs to be inherited, generation after generation," Liu said.