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Man Behind 'Ping-Pong Diplomacy' Dies

Chinese President Mao Zedong (left) shakes hands with U.S. President Richard Nixon at their meeting in Beijing in February 1972, one year after Zhuang Zedong's daring personal overture.
Three-time world ping-pong champion and former Chinese Sports Minister Zhuang Zedong has died at the age of 73.

Zhuang presented American ping-pong player Glen Cowan with a painting in 1971, sparking a thaw in U.S.-Chinese relations that led to the phrase "ping-pong diplomacy."

Cowan missed his team's bus at the world championships in Nagoya, Japan, and was given a ride on the Chinese team's bus.

Despite warnings not to approach the American from his teammates, Zhuang gave Cowan the painting "to mark the friendship of the Chinese people to the American people."

Communist leader Mao Zedong heard about the incident and invited the American team to compete in China.

Just one year later, U.S. President Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit communist China.

Based on reporting by BBC and AFP