Ping-Pong Diplomacy

The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

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.
  • Scribner | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451642810 | 
  • January 2014
List Price $13.99

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About the Author

Nicholas Griffin
Photograph by Adriana Cisneros

Nicholas Griffin

Born in London and educated at Eton, where his father's best friend was Ivor Montagu's nephew, Nicholas Griffin is the author of four novels and one non-fiction book, as well as having written for various newspapers including The Times and the Financial Times. He now lives in Miami with his family and was a Term Member on the Council on Foreign Relations.

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