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"Ping-Pong" "Diplomacy" traces a crucial inter-section 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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-10-21
- Reviewer: Staff
Griffin, a journalist, novelist, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, merges sport and diplomacy in a surprising story of how, for a moment in 1971, ping pong became a key player in world affairs. He analyzes the role the game played in Chinese politics while also profiling Ivor Montagu, a Jewish-British aristocrat who, driven by his love of ping pong and more private career as a communist spy, championed the growth of the International Table Tennis Federation. The invitation the American ping pong team received from China in 1971 was an unprecedented surprise, as was the impact of the match on world affairs. Griffin makes a strong case that the success of the American team’s China trip played perfectly into President Richard Nixon’s own historic China trip and the detente that altered world politics. Throughout, Griffin balances geopolitical context with sympathetic depictions of the world-class ping pong players who competed. Among them was Zhuang Zedong, the Chinese world champion who was disgraced during the dangerous days of the Cultural Revolution, and American star Glenn Cowan, who died homeless in 2004. Griffin has found an intriguing story with which to illuminate several important political events of the later 20th century and told it well. (Jan.)