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Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World

Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World

by Nicholas Griffin

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Combining the insight of Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World and the intrigue of Ben Affleck’s Argo, Ping Pong Diplomacy traces the story of how an aristocratic British spy used the game of table tennis to propel a Communist strategy that changed the shape of the world.

THE SPRING OF 1971 heralded the greatest geopolitical realignment in a generation. After twenty-two years of antagonism, China and the United States suddenly moved toward a détente—achieved not by politicians but by Ping-Pong players. The Western press delighted in the absurdity of the moment and branded it “Ping-Pong Diplomacy.” But for the Chinese, Ping-Pong was always political, a strategic cog in Mao Zedong’s foreign policy. Nicholas Griffin proves that the organized game, from its first breath, was tied to Communism thanks to its founder, Ivor Montagu, son of a wealthy English baron and spy for the Soviet Union.

Ping-Pong Diplomacy traces a crucial inter­section of sports and society. Griffin tells the strange and tragic story of how the game was manipulated at the highest levels; how the Chinese government helped cover up the death of 36 million peasants by holding the World Table Tennis Championships during the Great Famine; how championship players were driven to their deaths during the Cultural Revolution; and, finally, how the survivors were reconvened in 1971 and ordered to reach out to their American counterparts. Through a cast of eccentric characters, from spies to hippies and Ping-Pong-obsessed generals to atom-bomb survivors, Griffin explores how a neglected sport was used to help realign the balance of worldwide power.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451642810
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/07/2014
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 18 MB
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About the Author

Nicholas Griffin is a journalist and author of four novels and three works of nonfiction. His writing has appeared in The Times (London), the Financial Times, and Foreign Policy, among other publications. His book Ping-Pong Diplomacy was shortlisted for the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. He lives in Miami with his wife and two children.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Prologue 1

Part 1 The West

1 Not-So-Humble Beginnings 5

2 Gentlemanly Rebel 10

3 Roast Beef and Russia 14

4 The Dangers of Derision 19

5 Table Tennis and Trotsky 23

6 Culture and the Coming War 26

7 Suspect 31

8 Brothers 37

9 The End of the Game? 42

10 The Jewish Question 46

Part 2 The East

11 Table Tennis Bandits 53

12 The Trojan Dove 61

13 The Rise of Asia 67

14 Tiny Tornadoes 72

15 Reconnaissance 77

16 The Golden Game 83

17 Setting the Table 87

18 The End of Brotherhood 91

19 Preparation 96

20 Sacrifice 102

21 Nourishing the Team 106

22 Ping-Pong Espionage 112

23 Cheery Martial Music 117

24 The Chance to Shine 120

25 Fallout 126

26 Heroes of the Nation 129

27 Spreading the Gospel 135

28 The Grinding Halt 140

29 Under Pressure 145

30 House of Cards 148

31 Death to the Doubters 153

32 Down to the Country 159

Part 3 East Meets West

33 The World at War 165

34 The Seeds of Peace 173

35 Long Hair, Light Heart 178

36 Could the Great Wall Crumble? 184

37 A Measured Coincidence 188

38 An Invitation Home 193

39 Surprise 199

40 Decisions to Be Made 203

41 The Worries 207

42 Crossing the Borders 210

43 All Eyes on America 217

44 Tension 222

45 Nixon's Game 228

46 Political Ping-Pong 234

Part 4 Aftermath

47 Return Game 241

48 Capital Performance 247

49 United Nations 251

50 The Hippie Opportunist 256

51 The Heights 262

52 The Costs 265

Epilogue 273

Acknowledgments 277

Notes 281

Selected Bibliography 317

Index 325

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