A Ping-Pong Affair

By understanding the presence and role of sport in different cultures, we learn why nations hold sport close to their hearts and why they are seen as a part of their national identity.

To understand culture, and our own cultural experiences, we often turn to Asia. The Earth’s largest and most populous continent, enriched with diversity and culture. Digital Asia open’s the doors to a variety of concepts, ideas and functions throughout the Asian culture. Research has shown that apart of this culture, sport is influencing factor that not only show cases athletic ability, but also opens the doors to understand diplomacy and history. For this digital artefact, I have chosen to explore China’s reigning sport, Ping-Pong also known as Table Tennis.

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Culture throughout the ages has progressed, it is “always evolving, dynamic and hybrid” and “cannot be understood as static, eternally given and essentialist”. In order to understand culture, and we must understand its foundations past and present. Table tennis is apart of Chinese history; we acknowledge its integration into society through communism and its role as national identity. Understanding these components allow us to broaden our intercultural understandings, due to my own cultural background and worldview, my research on Asian sporting culture and more broadly has been very much characterised by new understandings.

By applying autoethnography as a research methodology, we are enabled to have an authentic and unaltered experience. Ellis describes autoethnography as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)”. Autoethnography combines the characteristics of autobiography and ethnography, which allows you to selectively write about your past, thoughts and perceived moments that you feel influence your understanding of your area of study.

Through my existing topline understanding of table tennis, I found a likeness to tennis. This is significant as tennis is a sport I grew up playing and was heavily involved in – and this connection allowed me to find a commonality with my research topic. Ellis explains, “[autoethnographers] study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences.” Self-narrative “can take us to the depths of personal feeling, leading us to be emotionally moved and sympathetically understanding.” Exploring the culture and training of table tennis, I have been able to empathise with the athletes and take an appreciate to the consistency and focus of the game.

The following digital artefact will explore the game of table tennis in China and its cultural value, and how my understanding has been bolstered and impacted by my personal experiences and culture.

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Diplomacy

Sport and politics often collide, and leaders have increased their efforts to harness the role of sport in furthering their national interests. But sporting competitions have been taking place between nation states in conflict for millennia.”

Commonly throughout history we have seen sport used as a diplomatic tool to bring countries together. Probably the most prolific example of this is the Olympic Games, where a ‘truce’ was put into play to ensure that all participants, spectators and officials were able to travel and participate safely. Over the years, we have seen sports diplomacy win in many cases, but also lose.

After researching the history of table tennis, it was interesting to find that this particular sport was used in the means of diplomacy between two countries, China and the United States of America.

The clip below provides a brief overview.

 

Another clip for further information!

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-25836922/how-ping-pong-diplomacy-brought-nixon-to-china

China felt that by opening and inviting the US, they would break the hostility between neighbours and initiate a possible shift in alliances.

Nixon, the real winner “will be the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of the People’s Republic of China”. 

Since then, we can see that there has been a regular US presidential trip to China. It is interesting to evaluate, how Sports and in particular table tennis has the ability to unite and create a common ground for unfamiliar and at times feuding countries.