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American Ping-Pong diplomat recounts China visit

Updated: 2021-12-18 10:28 ( Xinhua )
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NEW YORK-"Everything was new; everything was amazing," said Judy Hoarfrost, a former American ping-pong player, when recounting to Xinhua her team's historic visit to China half a century ago, a trip that would become known as "Ping-Pong Diplomacy".

The 66-year-old remembers almost every detail about that eight-day journey, which she called "a great adventure", including the Chinese phrases she learned, the food she ate and the places she toured.

"Everything was impressive… but if I had to pick one thing, it would be going to the Great Hall of the People and meeting Premier Zhou Enlai, because that was a great honor," said Hoarfrost.

"It was maybe the most influential thing that our team did during that trip," she said.

In April 1971, at the invitation of its Chinese counterpart, the US table tennis team made a historic trip to China, becoming the very first US group to visit the country since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The exchange of table tennis players between the United States and China in the early 1970s was seen as a key turning point in relations between the two nations.

Hoarfrost, who was 15 years old at the time, was the youngest of that 15-member delegation.

Even 50 years later, she was still animated about how she won three of the four matches during that tour.

"This was against extremely good Chinese players. So it was because of 'friendship first, competition second' … I think they were trying to make us feel welcomed," said Hoarfrost.

The veteran US "Ping-Pong diplomat" said the visit to China in 1971 was eye-opening, providing her a chance to experience the country and meet the Chinese people.

"China was a huge mystery, and we did not learn about what was going on (there) in school," said Hoarfrost.

Noting that being part of the mission in 1971 was "wonderful" for her life, Hoarfrost said the experience inspired her to establish a career in the sport of table tennis.

"It really made me have a thirst for more travel, and had made me have a thirst to play more table tennis and seeing the top-level players," said the former ping-pong player.

In 2016, Hoarfrost led her team to open a full-time table tennis club in order to make the sport more accessible to people. She hopes that players at her club would have more opportunities to visit China and play with top paddlers there.

Hoarfrost has been to China eight times, with several trips related to celebrating the anniversaries of Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

"It's incredible that people are still interested in the Ping-Pong Diplomacy," she said, adding "it's even more critical that we need to carry the torch to the next generation."

The most important legacy of the diplomacy "is the power that a sport like table tennis can play in bringing people together", and the power of people-to-people exchange in breaking down barriers and creating bridges to understanding, said Hoarfrost.

"The next generation are our Ping-Pong diplomats. We need to teach them well so that they get along, and they can solve problems together," she said. She is hopeful that the table tennis communities in the United States and China could further collaborate to enhance mutual understanding and benefit the broader bilateral relationship.

Hoarfrost said she is amazed by the "many changes that have taken place in China" since 1971. She said the United States and China "have a mutual coexistence" despite their differences.

"When we need each other, and we rely on each other, then there's more incentive to work together to solve problems," Hoarfrost said.

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