The Ping-Pong Diplomacy Years

 By Tim Boggan, USATT Historian

  Typeset by Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer

   Printed by The Outer Office

    Review by Mal Anderson


In his previous volumes, Tim did an excellent job of presenting the History of U.S. Table Tennis. As USATT Historian, he has access to the records of past tournaments and meetings. However, for Volume V, Tim is uniquely qualified to write about the historic visit of the U.S. Table Tennis Team to the People’s Republic of China in 1971, and the return visit of the PRC Table Tennis Team to the USA in 1972 – he was there, part of the history! Moreover, most of this volume was written shortly after the trip, not 30 years later, so you have the benefit of fresh memories of the times, not the sometimes distorted memories of today. In his words, “A first-hand record of the events, subjective, yes, but one to be believed.”

Those of you who weren’t part of TT in 1971 cannot appreciate the impact of these events. I still remember the news on TV – “The U.S. Table Tennis team has been invited to visit China” – the whole country was agog! This was a significant breakthrough in the cold war, and we were right in the middle of it!

The book starts fittingly with a forward by H. Roy Evans, the ITTF President from 1967 to 1987, written in 1971.

The first chapters deal with how the U.S. Team members got to the 1971 World Championships, in Japan – in those pre-Olympic days the team members had to pay most of their own transportation costs, with the result that some of those first selected didn’t go. Next comes our performance at the Worlds – average, we didn’t quite make the top groups – and then the later matches between the best countries.

THEN! – the shocking invitation, the decision to accept, the scramble to do all the work involved – and finally the trip.

As Tim records, most of the trip was taken up with meetings (including with Premier Chou En-lai), sight-seeing, etc., and a bit of TT. Tim correctly records the fact that it was all about politics, not TT. Part One ends with the team members’ homecoming, and their reception on returning to the U.S.

Part Two opens with the PRC team arriving in Detroit – Tim takes us through all the sightseeing and fetes, and exhibition matches. The first match fittingly was held in Cobo Arena – the first event ever held in Cobo Arena was the 1961 U.S. Open TT Championships. And then on we went – to Ann Arbor, MI; Williamsburg, VA; Bethesda, MD; Washington, D.C., including the White House; New York – the UN, then Long Island; Memphis, TN; and finally Los Angeles (Disneyland). All this between April 11 and April 26! Tim accurately captures the whole frantic scene. (One omission – the fact that the USTTA membership doubled in those 16 days!) Table Tennis remained the #1 news story for weeks after the trip – until Bobby Fischer pushed us off the front pages by winning the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. The venue was, of all places, the Headquarters of the Icelandic Table Tennis Association!

More should be said about the immense amount of work done by the National Committee for U.S.-China Relations, both before and during the tour – but Tim wasn’t part of this process.

There are about 400 photos – a few were reproduced from newspaper photos, so their quality is not the best, but most are excellent.

As this was written soon after it happened, you will also experience Tim’s convoluted writing style of 30 years ago. Tim’s comment on this is “my writing since then has both gained (in clarity perhaps) and lost something (a freshness, an exuberant vitality).” I personally never liked his old style – but it also is a part of U.S. Table Tennis history!

For anyone interested in U.S. Table Tennis, or the history of U.S.-China relations, this book is a must!