The Obituary in the February 23rd, 2013 edition of the The Economist tells the life of Chinese table-tennis champion Zhuang Zedong. Specifically, it recounts Zhuang‘s chance meeting with US table-tennis player Glenn Cowan in Japan in April 1971. Cowan had stepped into the Chinese team’s bus in error. Suppressing his instinctive reaction against “the imperialist enemy”, Zhuang gave Cowan a gift, recognizing him as another human being, and spoke some words of friendship.
“So started ping-pong diplomacy. Mao (Zedong) saw the photos of the two of them, grinning broadly, getting off the bus together, and immediately invited the American team to China. During that visit America lifted its 20-year trade embargo, and in February 1972 Richard Nixon visited China, the first American president to do so in Communist times. To please Mao, who thought he was so good at it, Zhuang continued to play the sportsman-diplomat, telling puzzled Westerners that victory and defeat were much the same, since life and death always went together. Most important, everyone kept smiling. Both leaders credited ping-pong for the change, with Mao declaring that a tiny ball had moved the great ball of the Earth”.
Have I already said that small and apparently insignificant incidents, handled graciously, can have historic impact? I think I might have.