How a ping-pong game helped end the Cold War.
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DICK'S Sporting Goods

The beginning of the end of Cold War tensions between the United States and China came from the unlikeliest of places: a game of table tennis.

The 1971 event would come to be known as "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" and is credited with starting the process of thawing the long-frozen relations between the two countries.

Photo by White House Photo Office/Wikimedia Commons.


Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China had been chilly since 1949, when communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China. After all, the Red Scare was in full swing back home, so this communist revolution was considered by the U.S. to be the "fall" of mainland China to communism. Over the years, Cold War propaganda and trade embargoes had only made things worse.

The estrangement took its toll on both countries, but by the 1970s, the stage had been set for someone to extend the first hand. The Chinese alliance with Russia was also strained by then, so President Richard Nixon considered it one of his top priorities to mend the U.S. relationship with the Asian giant.

That’s when, at the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in Japan, the Chinese national team invited the U.S. team to play some games of ping-pong in Beijing.

And when the U.S. accepted, those 15 Americans became the first Americans to visit the People’s Republic of China in 22 years, doing what even politicians and diplomats had failed to do.

While the invitation to play table tennis appeared seemingly random, it was anything but.

Chinese and U.S. teams prepare to play table tennis in 1971. Photo via U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons.

It was actually orchestrated by the Chinese government. At the time, an invitation from the Chinese team to American table tennis player Glenn Cowan to board their bus was interpreted as a gesture of goodwill, but the offer to catch a ride to the tournament was a deliberate action.

The Chinese team’s star player, Zhuang Zedong, gave Cowan a gift — a silk-screened picture of the Huangshan mountain range. Cowan returned the favor the following day, giving Zhuang a shirt bearing a peace sign and the Beatles’ lyrics "Let it be."

The Chinese government had decided to use ping-pong as the "perfect instrument of Communist propaganda," writes historian Nicholas Griffin in his book, "Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World."

This image — countries who had long been enemies coming together over a game of ping-pong — was the first sign that the tide might be turning.

Along with the Americans, the Chinese also invited select press to cover the table tennis games.

For Nixon, who wanted to end the war in Vietnam and was shortly up for re-election, it was the perfect opportunity to build on the Chinese government’s gesture and try to reframe the relationship between the two countries.

"I was as surprised as I was pleased," Nixon later wrote in his memoirs. "I had never expected that the China initiative would come to fruition in the form of a ping-pong team."

Cartoon of Nixon and Mao Zedong playing ping-pong. Photo via dbking/Flickr.

The U.S. players were not actually all that great at table tennis. The Chinese team, on the other hand, was one of the best in the world. But instead of crushing their competition during the exhibition games played during the trip, the Chinese team embodied the stated slogan of the tournament: "Friendship First, Competition Second."

In line with that theme, the Chinese players even let the Americans win a few games. You know, for sportsmanship.

Those games of table tennis helped change U.S. perceptions of the Chinese and made Nixon's historic visit to China the following year possible.

Even before the American table tennis players had finished their China trip, Nixon announced he planned to ease travel bans and trade embargoes with the country. And when he flew to China in February of 1972, Nixon became the first U.S. president in history to step foot on the Chinese mainland. While there, he met with Zhou Enlai, premier of the People's Republic, and Chairman Mao.

Years later, Nixon recalled the meeting, writing that the Chinese leaders "took particular delight in reminding me that an exchange of ping-pong teams had initiated a breakthrough in our relations. They seemed to enjoy the method used to achieve the result almost as much as the result itself."

US and China ping-pong players mark the 30th anniversary of the 1971 Beijing match. Photo via U.S. Department of State Archive.

Sometimes an olive branch can come from the unlikeliest of places.

No one could have predicted that something as simple as ping-pong would play a role in ending a decades-long war. But sports have the power to connect people and help them overcome rifts that are seemingly impossible to breach.

That’s evident during this year’s Winter Olympics, too. North Korea and South Korea, two countries with a very strained relationship, have agreed to march united under one flag during the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 9, as well as field a joint women’s hockey team.

It’s still a delicate balance and time will only tell how this cooperation will affect the overall relations between the countries. But it’s yet another example of the way sports can help people connect when nothing else can.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

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Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.