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‘Ping-pong diplomacy’: China challenges the United States

The Story


In 1971, China reaches out to the world - with a ping-pong paddle. The self-imposed isolation of the Cultural Revolution comes to an end when China invites the U.S. table tennis team to Beijing for a series of exhibition matches. For decades, China had painted Americans as its Number 1 enemy. But by the end of 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon is scheduled to visit China within months. This CBC-TV program examines the thaw in China-U.S. relations. 

Medium: Television
Program: Tuesday Night
Broadcast Date: Dec. 28, 1971
Guests: Shu-kai Chow, Richard Nixon
Reporters: Joe Schlesinger, Colin Godbold
Duration: 7:53
This clip has poor audio.

Did You know?


• "Ping-pong diplomacy" was launched in April 1971. At an international table-tennis tournament in Japan, Chinese and American athletes came in contact with each other. China then issued a surprise invitation for the U.S. players to visit Beijing and play a few exhibition matches.
• Four days later, nine players, two spouses and four officials entered the Chinese mainland. They were accompanied by 10 journalists, five of them American.
• They were the first group of Americans permitted in China since the communist takeover in 1949.
• Besides playing table tennis, the group was treated to tours of the Great Wall of China and met various Chinese workers and artists. The Americans were also the guests of honour at a banquet at the Great Hall of the People.
• During the visit, the United States announced plans to end a 20-year trade embargo with China.
• In July 1971, U.S. President Nixon announced that he was planning a visit to China in 1972. His secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had engineered the event in 1971.
• The People's Republic of China (PRC) was also welcomed into the United Nations in 1971. For many years other countries had proposed resolutions to admit China, but the United States consistently enlisted opposition to the resolution.
• By 1971 the UN had gained more new member countries that were sympathetic to the government in Beijing. When the PRC was admitted, it was also recognized as the legitimate government of mainland China. Simultaneously, the Republic of China (Taiwan) was expelled from the UN.
• In 1970, Canada had established diplomatic ties with China. The following year, embassies were set up in both countries.


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