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Made in Japan – The Diplomat


This is the 50th anniversary of “Ping the Round the World,” a Time Magazine title in their April 26, 1971 edition. A surprise invitation to the US table tennis team to visit China that year resulted in Nixon’s visit in 1972, which significantly changed the course of history. However, the whole story is much more complex and interesting, and Japan is at the center of it.

Leaders on both sides of the Pacific have been looking for a relationship upgrade since the late 1960s, for being quite realistic, realpolitik reason. President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, realized that aggravating the competition between China and the Soviet Union would be a major geostrategic boon. Mao Zedong and his fellow Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders sought leverage against their former Soviet ally, and they liked the US 7th Fleet away from the Taiwan Strait.

Table tennis has long been a bridge between Japan and China. In 1954, a Japanese player will guide China back into the competitive world of sports. Ogimura Ichiro gave shock at the 1954 World Championship in London. A Japanese newspapers flooded that the 1954 victories of Ogimura (teammates and men’s singles) had “surprised many people who still thought that Japan’s national sports were cherry blossom viewing and hara-kiri.” Ogimura led his team to five consecutive men’s team-mate titles, until 1959.

In “The Origins of Ping Pong Diplomacy,” Itoh Mayumi wrote:

Chinese leaders were inspired… This unexpected and unprecedented victory helped the Japanese regain their pride after their humiliating defeat in World War II. The Chinese leaders felt that China could also become the world champion in table tennis, as the Chinese and Japanese have similar body structures.

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The CCP is committed to investing in China’s ping pong competencies, and has discovered a candidate for growth. Rong Guotuan won Hong Kong in 1956, and then defeated Ogimura in an unofficial match, but was eliminated from the Hong Kong list for the 1957 Asian Championship, probably because of his family. Newly immigrated from the mainland to the colony. China’s offer of financial aid and other aid then became attractive, and Rong “returned” in 1957, proud that he would become world champion within three years.

It doesn’t take long. Rong won the men’s singles title at the 1959 World World in Dortmund, Germany – his first full international competition. Before that, no Chinese have won this title. Roger Bennett, author of “Everything you know is Pong: How mighty table tennis shaped our world” say “Mao declared victory equivalent to ‘spiritual nuclear weapons’ and Ping-Pong became the leading way that China manifested to the world.”

Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai invited Ogimura to be the coach of the Chinese players in 1961, the invitation was opposed by teammates of Ogimura and the Japan Table Tennis Association (JTTA), partly because of the Japanese. There is no reason to strengthen the opponent. The Japanese gave proper attention. The Chinese overtook Japan in total medals in 1961, with one of Rong’s top teammates, Zhuang Zedong, winning the men’s singles. After that, China dominated completely in 1963 and 1965, with Zhuang winning the men’s gold medal on both occasions.

But their victory was short-lived. After Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966, Party enthusiasts asserted that sports competitions were a bourgeois diversion, that international sports stars could not. respect that just be disparaged. Rong and his two medal-winning teammates were captured, tortured and paraded around by the Red Guards as examples of revisionists for over a year. In the summer of 1968, following the example of his two countrymen, Rong threw a rope over a tree branch and then hanged himself, in a pocket that said “I value my reputation over my life”. His return to the mainland in 1957 proved a tragic mistake.

Zhuang survived partly by engaging himself with the CCP leaders, especially Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, a decision that would cost him the price in the future. China withdrew from the World in 1967 and 1969, so Japan dominated in those years.

Ping Pong Diplomacy, Chinese-Japanese Style

By 1970, Goto Koji, the pioneer of table tennis in Japan, who was also the head of both the JTTA and the Asian Table Tennis Federation (TTFA), believed that his main task was to bring China back to World. world, and especially the 1971 Contest, was held in his hometown, Nagoya. Without China, the world could not live up to its name. Zhuang alone defeated the champions in 1967 and 1969 (Japan) elsewhere.

Ogimura, now a close colleague of Goto, returned from a 1970 China visit with intelligence that Zhou Enlai would consider sending the Chinese team to the World, as long as Goto removed Taiwan from the TTFA. In a December 1970 interview with Japan’s Mainichi Shinbun, Goto declared himself ready to “sacrifice” for the greater benefit of China’s participation in the World, by arranging the Exporting Taiwan from TFFA. As a result, he became the target of anti-China, pro-Taiwan militants in Japan. The police provided a plainclothes bodyguard for Goto, as the fascists in Japanese society had long made clear their commitment to what would come to be known as “politics of assassination”. .

Goto only had a few weeks to secure China’s participation in Nagoya Worlds in 1971 – application will be submitted on 5 February. Prepare to lead a JTTA delegation to Beijing on 25 January. , Goto disguised himself from Nagoya to Tokyo, out of fear of violence. But his mission was a success – on February 1, the two sides announced an agreement that would bring the Chinese team to Nagoya.

The agreement included the JTTA’s recognition of “three political principles”: no antagonistic policy against China, no conspiracy to create two China (by recognizing both the PRC and the ROC government. Kingdom on Taiwan), does not hinder the normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations. Relationships. In his book, Itoh writes, “This ‘Table Tennis Formula’ will become the standard to open up other exchanges between China and Japan in various fields, not only in sports but also in sports. cultural, economic and other things. ” She may have reasonably claimed to a wider range – variations of these principles that will become the norm for other countries to normalize relations with the PRC, among others. 1970s and beyond.

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Goto also succeeded in his willingness to sacrifice – he resigned as president of the TTFA at an emergency meeting held in Singapore in early February 1971, after his proposal to eliminate Taiwan failed in a meeting. vote.

On the bus

Prime Minister Zhou has created a multifaceted strategy to capitalize on the tournament to resume bilateral exchanges with many countries. He instructs the Chinese players to keep their Little Red Book in their pockets, although doing so in China during the era of the Cultural Revolution was an invitation to violence. On the day after the opening ceremony, the Chinese delegation invited teams from Canada, Columbia and the UK, and several others, to visit China after the Nagoya World Championship, which had been the subject of attention. The world goes far beyond the table tennis championships. And that was before American player and hippie icon Glenn Cowan boarded the wrong bus (China) after a training session.

The Chinese players on the car are quite tight. Cited in Obituary of The Independent In February 2013, Zhuang Zedong said, “The bus ride took 15 minutes, and I hesitated for 10 minutes. I grew up with the slogan ‘Destroy the American imperialism!’ “But in an interview with Tokyo Shimbun in 2008, Zhuang recalled,

I remember hearing Prime Minister Zhou Enlai talk about ‘friendship first, about second relationship’. I think it is my duty to participate. So from behind [of the bus] where i am sitting, i come close [Cowan] and say, ‘I want to show my friendship’. I gave him an embroidered picture of West Lake. [Note: The Japanese article says ‘West Lake’, but the image was actually of China’s Huangshan Mountain.] Cowan replied, ‘You are the famous Zhuang, right? Getting this from you is awesome! ”

The invitation for the US team to visit China, designed by Zhou, became famous afterwards. Dozens of US table tennis players visited the Great Wall and the Summer Palace and played “friendly” in Beijing and Shanghai. (The Chinese, by far better players in general, have politely left their best fights in their dressing room.) But the state-level dinner, hosted by Zhou on the 14th April is easily the most important diplomatic moment of the trip.

Isabel hilton open her 2014 review of Nicholas Griffin’s “Ping Pong Diplomacy” by describing “a photograph, taken in 1971, of one of the most unlikely groups ever gathered at the People’s Hall in Beijing. In the back row, Glenn Cowan, an American college student with long hair; in the center is the late Prime Minister of China, Zhou Enlai, next to a British man wearing glasses. They all seem to be looking in different directions, it really is.

In the photo depicted by Hilton, members of the US table tennis team posing with Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, the central foreground, and other Chinese officials in Beijing, China on Wednesday, April 14, 1971. Photo AP.

Hilton’s different metaphorical directions still resonate today as well as then. But the Chinese side did not forget Goto. Prime Minister Chu called him a “well digger”, referring to the Chinese aphorism, “when drinking water, never forget the source”. Goto died suddenly in January 1972, before he could see the most tragic end of his ping-pong diplomacy: Nixon’s visit to China that spring.

After Mao’s death, in September 1976, Group of Four was arrested, and Zhuang Zedong found himself on the wrong track of history. He became even closer to Jiang Thanh in the early 1970s, so he was jailed for many years, and internally exiled for a few more years. His first marriage did not pass the test, but in Nagoya Worlds, he met Sasaki Atsuko, a Japanese woman born in 1944 in China in a family that eventually repatriated until five 1976. The two eventually married in 1986, but they had to get approval from the highest level of government to do so, and Sasaki had to give up his Japanese citizenship. A year later, the couple published a book titled “Deng Xiaoping Approves Our Marriage.”

In a bit of poetic justice, Jiang Qing hanged himself in a hospital bathroom in May 1991, after being released after years in solitary confinement, because she was dying of cancer. Ogimura then extended his enthusiasm for table tennis diplomacy to the Korean peninsula, made dozens of trips there and eventually persuaded the North and South to play as a united team at Worlds 1991 at Chiba, Japan. Ogimura died in 1994 at the age of 62, also of cancer.

Glenn Cowan died when he was 52 years younger in 2004 in Los Angeles. Years earlier, he was diagnosed with various mental disorders. Zhuang visited Los Angeles three years later, and met Cowan’s mother, saying his greatest regret was not seeing Glenn again.

So during this cherry blossom season, give one thought to lesser-sung heroes, all gone, who helped pave the way back to China, first to Nagoya, then normal. Ogimura Ichiro, Rong Guotuan, Goto Koji and Zhuang Zedong – it is possible that the aftermath of their ping will remain a little longer.

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