Richard Solomon, a China scholar and diplomat, during a period of “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” Here he is pictured with Zhuang Zedong in 1972. (Solomon Family Photo)
Richard Solomon, a China scholar and diplomat, during a period of “Ping-Pong diplomacy.” Here he is pictured with Zhuang Zedong in 1972. (Solomon Family Photo)

Ping Pong Diplomacy

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inscribed ping pong paddle

Inscribed Ping Pong Paddle
Gift of Zhuang Zedong to Dr. Henry Kissinger | 2007. Collection of the National Museum of American Diplomacy

I was as surprised as I was pleased. I had never expected that the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a ping-pong team.” President Richard Nixon

Chinese ping pong player Zhuang Zedong’s surprise interaction with an American player at a championship game in Japan in April 1971 commenced what became known as “ping pong diplomacy” and a thaw in diplomatic relations between the United States and China.

Immediately following these well-publicized interactions, China (PRC) invited the U.S. ping pong team to play inside Communist China. A year later, the PRC ping pong team visited the United States on a goodwill tour. These sports exchanges provided a public opening for the serious diplomatic negotiations going on behind the scenes.

Henry Kissinger, then the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, secretly traveled to Beijing twice during 1971 to discuss the conditions under which each side would consider a normalization of relations. Soon afterward, President Nixon travelled to China in 1972, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit mainland China. Near the end of the trip, the two governments issued the Shanghai Communiqué. This agreement articulated a “one China” policy and provided the basis for the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, which would occur in 1979.