Early in the 1970’s, a group of American ping pong players set foot into China, becoming the first American sports delegation to set foot into China since 1949. The visit led pundits to coin the term “Ping Pong Diplomacy”. The visit was facilitated by the National Committee on US-China Relations, and set the stage for President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China.
Some say the visit was triggered by two men in particular, US player Glenn Cowan, and Chinese table tennis champion, Zhuang Zedong who died February 10 in Beijing. It was said Cowan missed the US team bus after practicing with the Chinese team for fifteen minutes, when the Japanese officials who were running the 31st World Table Tennis Championships wanted to close the area. Through an interpreter, Zedong came from the back of the Chinese team bus and presented Cowan with a skill screen portrait of the Huangshan Mountains.
A photo of Zedong and Cowan took the Japanese media by storm, and led to Chairman Mao inviting the US table tennis team to China during the week of April 11, 1971 for a series of exhibition matches. Zedong had been a favorite of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing. Not only was Zedong known for his actions in “Ping Pong Diplomacy”, but he was a pioneer in the “penholding dual-sided offense” style which he adapted from his coach Wang Chuan Yao. His modifications of Wang’s penholding style allowed him to win 3 World Championships during his career in the World Table Tennis Championships.