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Tributes are paid to table tennis player who helped make history

Tributes are paid to table tennis player who helped make history

TRIBUTES have been paid to Chinese table tennis player Zhuang Zedong who is credited with playing a key role in the so-called ping-pong diplomacy between his country and the United States. He has passed away aged 73.

It was a gesture of friendship which Zhuang showed to US player Glenn Cowan in 1971 which was to begin a process which eventually saw a major change for the better in relations between China and America.

Both players were in Japan to take part in the world championships. When Glenn Cowan missed his team bus he was offered a lift on the vehicle carrying members of the Chinese team.

During the journey, Zhuang approached the American and presented him with a gift of a silk portrait. He later recalled how, through an interpreter, he told the United States player: “Although the U.S. Government is unfriendly to China, the American people are friends of the Chinese. I give you this to mark the friendship from Chinese people to the American people.”

Photographs of the encounter appeared in newspapers across the world. The Chinese leader Mao Zedong was delighted by the coverage of the friendly encounter and he ordered that an invitation should be issued to the U.S. table tennis team to visit the country.

The Americans accepted the invitation and the visit took place in April, 1971.

It began what was referred to as ping-pong diplomacy between the two countries which was to result in Richard Nixon in 1972 becoming the first President to visit China (see below).

Zhuang was one of his country’s best known sportsmen and was world champion three times. He later became the country’s sports minister and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

But his high-profile position was to prove unhelpful in the wake of Mao’s death in 1976 and the ousting of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’. He was arrested and banned from playing table tennis.

He was to spend a number of years in internal exile, only being allowed to return to Beijing in 1985.

However, in 2007 he visited United States and recalled how he had played a role in bringing about a change in the way many Americans had viewed his country.

To view the speech President Nixon delivered prior to setting off for China, click here.

To see footage taken during the visit by Zhuang Zedong to Los Angeles in 2007, click here.

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