The World: The Ping Heard Round the World

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Nationalist followers from the mainland in 1949. The Chinese Communists will not abruptly change their nature or their goals. Even so, all kinds of heady possibilities and difficult questions were suddenly in the air. What role would China assume as a no longer isolated power? Would the Russians get mad? Could the U.S. start playing Peking against Moscow? (A dangerous but almost irresistible thought.) Would global geometry turn into a triangle of Washington, Moscow and Peking? Or into a quadrangle, counting Tokyo? Would China's attitude affect the Vietnamese war? Most of the answers could not possibly become clear for a long time, but the world experienced the refreshing breaking of a dreary stalemate. Even if this break might bring new risks, they seemed preferable to the old paralysis.

In short, the great Ping Pong mission had turned the familiar big-power contest into a whole new game —intricate, fascinating and almost certain to influence international relations for decades to come.

Around the world, the response reflected each country's stake in detente between China and the West. In Britain, which long ago recognized Peking with precious little to show for it so far, the Times rhapsodized: "The East Wind Is Kind." Moscow's Pravda restricted itself to a deadpan account of the U.S. table tennis team's visit to Peking. But the unspoken Soviet reaction could be judged from past editorials that inveighed against Sino-American "collusion" at Russia's expense. In Taipei, the China Times predictably warned in mixed metaphors that "the Chinese Communists hide a dagger beneath their smile."

The first faint hint of what was to come occurred at the world table tennis championships in Nagoya, Japan, two weeks ago, when the Chinese popped a startling question: "Would the Americans accept an invitation to tour China for a week, all expenses paid?" The group's answer: Delighted.

The U.S. table tennis team comprised the world's most improbable—and most naive—group of diplomats. The group was led by Graham B. Steenhoven, 59, a bespectacled, graying Chrysler personnel supervisor who is president of the 3,000-member U.S. Table Tennis Association; Rufford Harrison, 40, a soft-spoken Du Pont chemist from Wilmington, Del.; Tim Boggan, a Long Island University assistant professor; Jack Howard, 36, an IBM programmer, and George Buben of Detroit, who took along his wife. The male players, besides Howard, were Glenn Cowan, a longhaired student from Santa Monica, Calif.; John Tannehill, 19, a psychology major at Cincinnati University; Errol Resek, 29, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and employee in the Wall Street office of the Chemical Bank, who was accompanied by his wife, and George Braithwaite, 36, a graduate of New York's City College, a United Nations employee and the only black in the group. The women players were Connie Sweeris, 20, a diminutive housewife from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Olga Soltesz, 17, of Orlando, Fla., who resembles a teenage Joan Baez; and Judy Bochenski, 15, of Eugene, Ore. Also invited was SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Richard Miles, ten times U.S. table tennis champion.

The Americans crossed the Chinese border from Hong Kong and took a green train to Canton. They journeyed into a disconcertingly strange world in which loudspeakers blared music and propaganda

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