Over the past few years, we have marked the 50th anniversaries of official visits to China by then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon. Historians have scrutinized the records of their conversations with Chinese leaders, but less attention has been given to people-to-people exchange that began with “ping-pong diplomacy.” Based on archival sources in China and the United States and numerous interviews, Pete Millwood argues in Improbable Diplomats that the significance of cultural and scientific exchanges goes beyond reacquainting the Chinese and American people with each other after two decades of minimal contact; exchanges also influenced Sino-American diplomatic relations and helped transform post-Mao China.

In an interview conducted on March 9, 2023, Pete Millwood discusses with Alison Friedman how a diverse cast of Chinese and Americans – athletes and physicists, performing artists and seismologists – played a critical, but often overlooked, role in remaking U.S.-China relations.

About the speakers