When people in England played a small plastic ball on a table with round wooden bats a hundred years ago, perhaps it had never occurred to anyone---and indeed nor to anyone even three decades ago--- that the game would play such a vital role in the Olympic Movement and be used someday as a powerful weapon in diplomacy leading to the re-opening of Sino-U.S. relations in the early '70s, contemporary history of the world.

After the U.S.-backed Kuomintang government was overthrown in 1949, the United States adopted a policy of blockade towards the newly-born People's Republic of China. In the late '60s, in face of increasing Soviet menaces, the Nixon Administration wanted to change its global strategy by improving its relations with China. As Nixon had written in the October 1967 issue of Foreign Affairs, "Taking the long view we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations." Immediately after his nomination for President, he reiterated in an interview to Time magazine that "We must not forget China. We must always seek opportunities to talk with her." "If there is anything I want to do before I die, it is to go to China."

On the other hand, as Premier Zhou Enlai had declared as early as 1955 at the Bandung Conference, "The Chinese people are friendly towards the American people. The Chinese people want no war with the United States. The Chinese government is willing to sit down for talks on problems concerning the relaxation of tensions in the Far East, particularly in the Taiwan area."

Towards the end of 1969, the talks in Warsaw between China and the United States at the ministerial level which had gone on for 14 years without achieving any result were resumed, only to stop again after two intervention in Cambodia in April 1970.

On October 25, Nixon asked President Yahya Khan of Pakistan at the White House to send an oral message to Chinese leaders that the United States had decided to normalize its relations with China and would dispatch a high-ranking official on a secret trip to China. On the next day, in his speech at a banquet in honour of the Romanian guest Ceaucescu, he used for the first time the name of "People's Republic of China." In November, Yahya Khan forwarded Nixon's oral message to Premier Zhou Enlai on his visit to China. Zhou said that this was something very important and he would report it to Chairman Mao Zedong. A few days later, Zhou told the Pakistan president that Mao had agreed to the American proposal on principle, pending the solution of many details: Who would make the trip to China? When? Whether directly country? And so on and so forth.

On December 18, Chairman Mao Zedong had a five-hour talk with his old American friend Edgar Snow, mainly on the topic of Sino-U.S. relations. He said that if Nixon wanted to come to China, he might "come quietly in a plane, either as a tourist or a president…I don't think I'll wrangle with him, though I'll criticize him."

Early in 1971, the Chinese foreign ministry was deliberating on questions related to the re-opening of Sino-U.S. relations, such as whom to invite first and when and through what channels.

It happened that the 31st World Table Tennis Championships was going to be held in Nagoya from March 28 through April 7,1971. concerning China's participation in this tournament, a special meeting was held at the State Council on March 11. It was attended by officials from the Foreign Ministry and the State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports, with Premier Zhou Enlai presiding.

"Our table tennis team represents our country and our people, " Zhou said, "It will come into contact with many teams from other countries including the United States. If the Amecican team is a progressive one, we may invite it to China for competition. Hasn't our team been to West Germany? Can't it even go to the United States? We haven't restored relations with Japan, but our sports delegation can go there."

1   2   3