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Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World

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THE SPRING OF 1971 heralded the greatest geopolitical realignment in a generation. After twenty-two years of antagonism, China and the United States suddenly moved toward a détente—achieved not by politicians but by Ping-Pong players. The Western press delighted in the absurdity of the moment and branded it “Ping-Pong Diplomacy.” But for the Chinese, Ping-Pong was always political, a strategic cog in Mao Zedong’s foreign policy. Nicholas Griffin proves that the organized game, from its first breath, was tied to Communism thanks to its founder, Ivor Montagu, son of a wealthy English baron and spy for the Soviet Union.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy traces a crucial inter­section of sports and society. Griffin tells the strange and tragic story of how the game was manipulated at the highest levels; how the Chinese government helped cover up the death of 36 million peasants by holding the World Table Tennis Championships during the Great Famine; how championship players were driven to their deaths during the Cultural Revolution; and, finally, how the survivors were reconvened in 1971 and ordered to reach out to their American counterparts. Through a cast of eccentric characters, from spies to hippies and Ping-Pong-obsessed generals to atom-bomb survivors, Griffin explores how a neglected sport was used to help realign the balance of worldwide power.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451642773 | 
  • January 2014
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Video

History in Five: Nicholas Griffin on Ping-Pong Diplomacy

Nicholas Griffin, author of PING-PONG DIPLOMACY, presents the five things you should know about the history surrounding the 1971 ping-pong exhibitions between the United States and China that suddenly moved the two countries toward détente.

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