In April 1972, the National Committee made history by co-hosting the Chinese Table Tennis Team in round two of what became widely known as Ping Pong Diplomacy. Following two historic trips made in the other direction — the U.S. Table Tennis team’s 1971 trip to China and President Nixon’s February 1972 visit — this was the first U.S. visit of a delegation from the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese delegation, led by Zhuang Zedong, China’s most famous table tennis player of the day, consisted of 13 players, 8 newsmen and photographers (including a TV documentary team and a feature film crew), 4 interpreters, and 7 senior officials — testimony to the importance the Chinese attached to the visit. This was certainly matched by the U.S. side, as evidenced, among other things, by a planeload of journalists who covered the event, sell-out crowds at six large arenas, and a reception on the White House lawn by President Nixon. The U.S. Table Tennis Association handled recruitment of American players, with the National Committee responsible for the program’s management and fundraising.
The Chinese team arrived in Detroit by chartered plane on April 12, and left San Francisco on April 30, with Ann Arbor, Williamsburg, Washington, New York, Memphis, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area (including Palo Alto and Napa Valley) in between. They played six matches with U.S. teams and gave several exhibitions, all of which were enthusiastically received.
Along with the exciting table tennis, events were scheduled that provided the Chinese guests the opportunites to talk to and engage with diverse sectors of America — whether in the White House Garden, a horse farm in Memphis, a school in the Bronx, the Governor’s mansion at Williamsburg, a winery in the Napa Valley, Disneyland, or while walking down all 1860 steps in the Empire State Building!
The success of the Chinese Table Tennis Team’s visit opened the doors to further sports — not to mention cultural and educational — exchange. In the athletic arena alone, the National Committee launched a number of exchanges throughout the remainder of the decade, eventually sending and receiving delegations representing many major sports — including swimming and diving, basketball, gymnastics, track and field, volleyball, tennis, and soccer.