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At a championship game in Japan on April 7, 1971, a surprising and friendly interaction between Chinese ping-pong player Zhuang Zedong and Team USA ping-pong player Glen Cowan began what became known as “ping-pong diplomacy,” a thaw in diplomatic relations between U.S. and China. The publicized interaction prompted Chairman Mao of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to invite the U.S. Ping-Pong team to an all-expense paid trip to China. At the time, TIME Magazine referred to it as “the ping hear round the world.” Soon after, President Richard Nixon travelled to China in 1972, becoming the first U.S. president to visit mainland China. Ping-Pong Diplomacy became a significant moment in history, successfully opening the doors towards a normalization of relations between both nations.

I was as surprised as I was pleased. I had never expected that the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a ping-pong team.” 
— 37th U.S. President Richard Nixon

“Spirit of ’76” Nixon’s trip to China in 1972

** All photos are from public domain and publicly-accessible historical archives. They are featured here for educational purposes only.