Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Tuesday I wrote about a “peace truck” and how one person or a duo can make a big difference in broader social change by just finding a way to connect to each other across boundaries in spite of traditionally being enemies.

I read an article in the Washington Post, by Douglas Martin, entitled “Zhuang Zedong, athlete and key figure in 1971 China-US ‘Ping-Pong diplomacy’ dies at 72.” I commend to you the article.

What struck me about it was the fact that a way for diplomacy opened up simply because of a connection between two individuals. An American table tennis player boarded the wrong bus at the world table tennis championships in Japan in 1971, and when China’s top player greeted him warmly, in spite of being told not to speak to Westerners, a series of events unfolded. Mao Zedong, China’s leader, used this an opportunity to improve relations between his country and America at a time when tensions were high around the Vietnam War.

Mao invited the American team to visit China. Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China, and within eight years the two countries had established diplomatic ties.

This isn’t a simple story with a happily-ever-after ending. But it does serve as an interesting illustration that change began with one interaction, and that the interaction was not even a major kairotic moment for the two people involved. Nevertheless, they acted; they connected. And good things flowed from it.

It  makes you wonder what awaits us each as we take on the world today.


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