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Table Tennis in China Part II: A Political Perspective

By Li Zhenyu (People's Daily Online)

11:03, July 23, 2012

Chinese vice premier Li Lanqing shakes hands with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before a reception marking the 30th anniversary of "Ping Pong Diplomacy" held in Beijing March 18, 2001.

Pingpong Today

As the national sport of China, pingpong is played by almost everyone in the country. Tables for the game, often made of concrete, are found throughout parks, in communities and public schools.

Although many young people today in China are gravitating toward basketball, soccer, or tennis, if they can afford it, pingpong remains a fixture in Chinese society.

"Chinese today have much more choice of what sports they can afford to play, but people still prefer pingpang," said Deng Yaping, one of the most celebrated Chinese players, who retired in 1997 at age 24 with four Olympic gold medals.

"Although it is a little sport, table tennis is very easy to play and does not require much space. The equipment is not expensive as well."

Pingpong Diplomacy

From a historical perspective, the sport played an important role in China's international relations.

In April 1971, the US table tennis team was invited to visit China. It was the first American sports delegation to visit China in years, launching the round of so-called pingpong diplomacy credited with warming relations during the Nixon administration.

Pingpong was "an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Beijing" noted a Time reporter, as each nation signaled, in turn, its openness to change.

"In the future, sports could play a more important role in diplomatic relations," said Deng who made a successful political transition to become the Deputy Secretary-General of the China's flagship newspaper People's Daily.

Li Zhenyu authors the "Beyond Gold" column for People's Daily Online.

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