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    For World Superpowers, The Ping-pong Table Frequently Had A Net


    In the spring of 1971, two international antagonists discovered a diplomatic opening through an unlikely source, the game of ping-pong.

    MAN 1: Good evening. The bamboo curtain has been deciphered by a ping-pong ball.
    WALLACE: China raised the bamboo curtain now, long enough to allow in 15 American ping-pong players.

    MAN 2 : The very first time a group of Americans has been invited to pay a visit to China in over 21 years since the communists took over.

    Ramsen: It became famous as ping-pong diplomacy, that visit paving the way for President Nixon's trip to Beijing the next calendar year. But leading up to this moment were decades in which table tennis was carefully exploited to political ends. That narrative is set out by Nicholas Lethur in his brand new book, "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game that Changed the World." Nicholas Lethur, thanks for coming in.

    Lethur: Thanks for having me.

    Ramsen: And you also start back in the 1920s and you present us to this intriguing character, a guy you call the forgotten architect of ping-pong diplomacy. He is a British aristocrat and his name is Ivor Montagu. Tell us about Ivor Montagu. Read article about top rated ping pong tables only now.

    Lethur: Ivor Montagu was born into this exceptionally wealthy family in the turn of this century in England. Plus it was a really well-connected family. They had been friends with the king and queen of England. Prime Ministers would come to go to, home secretaries. You could not have a more establishment family. However, Ivor decided to do things somewhat differently.

    Ramsen: Just a little.

    Lethur: Only a bit. Only a little. He kind of veered toward socialism as - if we're 13, 14. And at the time he was 18, he got a bit more severe and opted to take the step towards communism.

    Ramsen: He's a fascinating character. He goes fishing with Trotsky. He lunches with FDR. He creates films with Hitchcock. He's a spy for Stalin. And somehow in here, ping-pong becomes part of what he is about.

    ping-pong-table-pingpongstart.jpg

    Lethur: That is right. Before he becomes a sort of super-spy together with the Soviet army intelligence unit, he's actually working for - secretly for the Comintern, which is the Communist International. And their mandate is to take a look at all forms of culture and use them to sort of pregnant Western societies with communist ideas. And there were many means Montagu got involved - his books, his filmmaking, and then, of course, the game was part of the culture.

    Ramsen: Exactly what was it about ping-pong that made Ivor Montagu feel this could be a pathway for communism, that this was a station for him to work with?

    Lethur:'' First of all, he thought it would sort of movement only under the radar. He didn't really believe there was a way to commercialize the game. But he did think there was a way to arrange the working class through this sport. And afterward, his other idea was that after you had an international table tennis federation, it supposed that he could move between countries that didn't have diplomatic relations, an extremely helpful thing to do if you are a spy.

    Ramsen: In your book, you write that Ivor Montagu is the only motive that 300 million Chinese people play table tennis weekly. Is it really that direct a connection?

    Lethur: Yes, it is in fact. There was something that surprised Ivor Montagu, which was once he got in contact with the Chinese just weeks after the People's Republic was founded in 1949, he did not know that Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai not only loved table tennis but they actually both played at a fairly large standard. They'd play in their own caves in Yunnan when they were bombed by Chiang Kai-shek.
    When Montagu arrived, they were very relieved to meet him as well because here from the International Table Tennis Federation, this was an international sporting body run by a communist spy.

    Ramsen: How was ping-pong played in China? Who was playing in China in these early days of the People's Republic, from the late'40s into the'50s?

    Lethur: At the beginning of the'50s, ping-pong really wasn't a big deal in China. But that did not matter since China, as we all know, is a top-notch society. Therefore it didn't matter what the people in the base wanted to do. It was what the people at the top wanted them to do. Plus they chose ping-pong. And that means you begin getting this drive through the 1950s. And also a great deal of money gets put into ping-pong.

    Useful advises about choosing the best ping pong paddle can be found at: https://medium.com/@pingpongstart/be...m-d693d906ac74

    They move and recruit the very best players from Hong Kong, and they begin building up the system that is world class by the end of this decade, and this, of course, coincides with the Great Leap Forward.

    Ramsen: When you've got some startling descriptions in here. Through the Great Leap Forward, of course, countless - thousands of millions of people in China were perishing of starvation. There was widespread famine. The economy was in tatters. Nevertheless, the ping-pong players were sheltered from this. They were coddled. They have been living a pretty lavish lifestyle.

    Lethur: And imagine the pressure, particularly when they understood - all these players figured out exactly what was going on in the rest of China. And, needless to say, it all builds towards this first world championship being held in Beijing in 1961.

    Ramsen: What happened in that tournament?

    Lethur: Well, that championship is present to China out of Ivor Montagu. It was a gift given at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward. Plus it was supposed to be sort of a little show-off item that could be tacked onto the end of the Great Leap Forward. Regrettably, once we know there are millions of people dying across the country, they understood that this actually might be the only chance to show China in its best and conceal what's happening across the Chinese countryside.

    holding-ping-pong-paddle.jpg

    And they go and build the largest ping-pong arena on the planet that can chair 18,000 people. It's state of the art. They win all the gold medals for China. It will get a good quantity of press coverage. And nobody understands that this famine has wiped out maybe 40 million individuals. But as soon as they get it done, those young men and women become, overnight, the biggest actors in China. The only people more famous are the revolutionary leaders, who now they become buddies with.
    They go on holiday together throughout the summer. The group gets invited to Premier Zhou Enlai's house, and he is their rolling dumplings with his own hands for them. But then things go sort of horribly wrong during the Cultural Revolution.

    Ramsen: And as you explain it, they, together with many different people, were reviled, was castigated, in many instances murdered or committed suicide.

    Lethur: That is right. Everything gets flipped on its head at the Cultural Revolution, also anyone who is associated with these radical leaders such as Premier Zhou Enlai was paraded on stage, since the ping-pong team was, facing thousands of people. Many of them were tortured. Many of them were defeated. Many had their heads shaved. And three of these were pushed to their deaths.

    Ramsen: Let's jump to 1971, the year of the ping-pong diplomacy when the U.S. group, which is in Japan for the world championships, gets an invitation apparently out of the blue by the Chinese team. Come to see us. Come to China. And, needless to say, it had been anything but spontaneous. It was very, very carefully orchestrated.

    Lethur: That is right. I mean, it was a simpler story to understand if it had been spontaneous. I mean, it's such a beautiful story. An American hippie wanders on to a bus, looks around himself, that the door is shut and it's the Chinese communists. And suddenly these two men are speaking only like a couple of sportsmen and they strike this friendship and they change the world. It's a lovely story, but it is simply not correct.
    Glen Cowan, the American hippie, was really waved to this bus. This bus had waited for him. And this was coordinated to the nth degree by the Chinese. The only men and women who did not know about this coordination were the American group.

    Ramsen: '' You know, I was struck by a quote that you include, reported to be in the spouse of Zhou Enlai, who said, the ping-pong ball is very important. You know, it could shake the whole Earth. Seems like hyperbole, but I wonder if you've come to think that in the conclusion.

    Lethur: I personally believe there is something key here in why ping-pong works as diplomacy. It could not have worked alone. It needed the framework behind it. Nixon was looking for a way to reach out to Mao Tse-Tsung. Mao was searching for a means to reach out to Nixon exactly the exact same moment. But that had fallen quiet due to miscommunication. And the previous miscommunication was the Chinese had launched what they considered an extremely obvious signal along with the Americans had overlooked it.

    So they needed something so obvious that we couldn't overlook it. And that is the reason why they picked ping-pong as a kind of diplomacy. And I recomend for you one article about ping pong robot: https://www.quora.com/profile/PongSt...-How-To-Choose

    Ramsen: Nicholas Lethur, his book is "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game that Changed the World." Nicholas, thanks so much.

    Lethur: Thank you so much.
    Last edited by adammuelta; 11-09-2018 at 07:53 AM.
    10-22-2018 11:36 AM

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