Since the late 1960s, China and the United States, which have been in a hostile relationship for a long time, have begun to make tentative and secret contacts to improve and ease relations.
Ping pong diplomacy refers to the event in which China invited the American table tennis team to visit China in 1971. On April 10, 1971, the U.S. table tennis delegation and a small group of U.S. journalists arrived in Beijing and became the first Americans allowed to enter China since 1949. This move has had an impact on the breakthrough in Sino-U.S. relations. The friendly exchanges between the Chinese and American table tennis teams have promoted the normalization of Sino-U.S. relations.
With the approval of Chairman Mao Zedong, on April 6, 1971, the Chinese table tennis team participating in the 31st World Table Tennis Championships in Nagoya, Japan, sent an invitation to the American table tennis team to visit China.
On April 14, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met with members of the American table tennis team at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and said to them: “You have opened a new chapter in the relations between the people of China and the United States. I believe in our friendship. This new beginning will surely be supported by the majority of people in our two countries.”
A few hours after Premier Zhou Enlai made a speech, U.S. President Richard Nixon announced the retirement of a series of bans on China. In return, the US table tennis team invited the Chinese table tennis team to visit the United States. This invitation was immediately accepted.
Ping-pong diplomacy was successful and resulted in opening the U.S.-PRC relationship, leading the U.S. to lift the embargo against China on June 10, 1971 and paved the road for the consequent visit of US President Richard Nixon.
February 1972: Nixon’s visit to China
The visit was an important diplomatic mission that marked the culmination of the Nixon administration’s resumption of harmonious relations between the United States and China.
The seven-day official visit to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai was the first time a U.S. president had visited the PRC; Nixon’s arrival in Beijing ended 25 years of no communication, nor diplomatic ties, between the two countries and was the key step in normalizing relations between the U.S. and China.
“The week-long visit, from February 21 to 28, 1972, allowed the American public to view images of China for the first time in over two decades. Throughout the week the President and his senior advisers engaged in substantive discussions with the PRC leadership, including a meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong, while First Lady Pat Nixon toured schools, factories and hospitals in the cities of Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai with the large American press corps in tow.” (wikipedia)
Nixon visited China to gain more leverage over relations with the Soviet Union.
“Nixon and his aides carefully planned the trip to have the biggest possible impact on television audiences in the United States. The media coverage of the trip was overwhelmingly positive. Later interviews with correspondents who traveled with the President show how eager they were to be on the trip, which some labeled the most important summit meeting ever.”
Chinese table tennis team visit to US
On April 11, 1972, the Chinese table tennis team paid a return visit to the United States and first arrived in Detroit. The exchange of visits by the Chinese and American table tennis teams caused a stir in international public opinion and became a major event that attracted worldwide attention. “Ping-pong diplomacy” ended the isolation of personnel exchanges between China and the United States for more than 20 years, resulting in a historical breakthrough in the Sino-U.S. reconciliation.
This group of pictures actually recorded some of the little-known scenes at the time.