In April 1972, just after Nixon’s breakthrough conversations with Mao Zedong, 12 academics with an interest in the Chairman – of whom I was one – were invited to China. We knew that the meeting had been made possible by the encounters between the American and Chinese ping-pong teams the year before. Although what happened in 1971 at the world ping-pong championships in Japan, where the first invitation to the Americans to visit China was extended, is known already, Nicholas Griffin’s narrative – though shaky on a few of the details on the Chinese side – is a worthy contribution to our understanding of this spectacular event in Chinese–US relations.
A writer new to Chinese affairs, Griffin has done his homework, carrying out important interviews in China, and he tells the story well. From 1949, when Mao’s forces took control of China and the US helped to sustain Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Taiwan, Washington and Beijing were enemies, and the