Ping-pong diplomacy refers to the exchange of table tennis (ping-pong) players between the United States and People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the early 1970s.
The event marked a thaw in Sino-American relations that paved the way to a visit to Beijing by President Richard Nixon.
The U.S. Table Tennis team was in Nagoya, Japan in 1971 for the 31st World Table Tennis Championships on April 6 when they received an invitation to visit China. From the early years of the People’s Republic, sports had played an important role in diplomacy, often incorporating the slogan “Friendship First, Competition Second”. During the isolationist years, athletes were among the few PRC nationals who were allowed to travel overseas. On April 10, 1971, the team and accompanying journalists became the first American delegation to set foot in the Chinese capital since 1949. The meeting was facilitated by the National Committee on United States – China Relations. Prior to the visit by the American table tennis players, eleven Americans were admitted into the PRC for one week because they all professed affiliation with the Black Panther Party which followed a Maoist political line. This was unusual, given that high-profile American citizens such as Senator Eugene McCarthy expressed interest in visiting China after the 1968 presidential election, but even he could not have a trip arranged for him despite his office.