In 1971, an American and a Chinese ping pong player exchanged gifts following a chance encounter on the Chinese national ping pong team’s bus during a competition in Japan. After this unlikely interaction, the U.S. national table tennis team was invited to China; the athletes and their entourage became the first American group to travel to the country in decades. One year later, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations organized a visit of the Chinese table tennis team as it traveled across the United States. And so “Ping Pong Diplomacy” began.
On April 28, 2021, the National Committee hosted a virtual celebration of the 50th anniversary of ping pong diplomacy. Ms. Jan Berris, vice president of the National Committee who accompanied the Chinese ping pong delegation on its travels; Ms. Judy Hoarfrost, a former United States table tennis champion who visited China with the U.S. team; and Dr. Doug Spelman, a retired foreign service officer and academic who served as an interpreter for the Chinese team discussed ping pong diplomacy – how it came to be, its historical and political context, and its significance then and now. The conversation was moderated by Mr. Alex DeAngelis, a staff member at the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China for much of the 1970s, who then moved to the National Science Foundation, based in Washington and Beijing.