Small Ball's Big Role: Sino-American Relations and "Ping-Pong Diplomacy," 1971-1972

Poster announcing the Ping-Pong Diplomacy Exhibit

Most people are unaware of the big roles that Ping-Pong, the University of Michigan, and Detroit played in the geopolitics of the early 1970s. 

From September 19 to November 15, the Asia Library (Hatcher Graduate Library 4th Floor North) will be hosting an exhibit that commemorates the 45th anniversary of the Chinese Table Tennis Delegation’s historic visit to the U.S. in 1972, especially to Ann Arbor and the U-M. "Small Ball's Big Role: Sino-American Relations and 'Ping-Pong Diplomacy,' 1971-1972" includes an authentic Ping-Pong-table-sized panel that tells the story of how Ping-Pong helped initiate a rapprochement in one of the world’s most important relationships at the height of the Cold War.

During the early 1970s, the two large countries at either end of the Pacific shaped the restless world in their own ways. China was moving full steam ahead on the Cultural Revolution. The U.S. was grappling with a series of domestic and international problems including the Vietnam War. Mired in ideological opposition, U.S.-China relations had been hostile since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Getting these Cold War foes to reconnect with each other looked like a mission impossible. Curiously, Ping-Pong emerged to play an important role in bringing U.S.-China relations to rapprochement in the early 1970s and finally to normalization in 1979. The historically significant Ping-Pong exchanges between China and the U.S. held in 1971 and 1972, which came to be called “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” (乒乓外交 pingpang waijiao) in English, were nicknamed xiaoqiu zhuandong daqiu 小球转动大球 (small ball spins the big globe) in Chinese.

Curated by Chinese Studies Librarian Liangyu Fu, “Small Ball’s Big Role” is co-sponsored by the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, the Confucius Institute, and the Asia Library.