John Paton

Wu Ningkun


(Preliminary talk not transcribed)

INTERVIEWER: So, Tim, if I could take you back to 1971 and Japan, can you tell me how this all came about? An invitation was issued to the Americans to come back to China. How did it all begin?

TIM BOGGAN: Well, it came totally out of the blue. An ITTF Chinese official suddenly appeared at a hotel with one of our deputy leaders and asked if we'd like to go to China, and we were all caught completely by surprise, and we said, "Oh, yes, of course." The thing is, we were all very unworldly and we didn't really understand why China wanted to invite us; we didn't realize that they were trying to get into the UN, that they really wanted to make some outside contacts with Asian, African and Latin American countries, and we just sort of went blindly. It was great for us, but it was also wearying, because immediately we were conscripted to be reporters and were given cameras and tape recorders, and it just seemed like, instead of fun, it was going to be kind of scary even, maybe.

INT: So you'd all been expecting to go home, had you, and all of a sudden...?

TB: Yeah, we'd been expecting to go home. In fact, the Chinese just seemed so alien, at least to me, because I was in awe of them, their play, and I was a delegate at an ITTF meeting where suddenly this Chinese deputy crazily began screaming that, "No, we don't want Taiwan in the ITTF!" Malaysia had suggested maybe Taiwan get into the ITTF. And China had quit the tennis and the archery federations because Taiwan was in those federations, and it looked like they were really using table tennis as a weapon. I was just absolutely amazed at this lack of civilized behavior, and our own deputy began screaming "Point of order, point of order!" And it was precisely this guy and the head deputy that then contacted our man Harrison and asked if we'd like to come to China, with, you know, a very pleased expression. So it was kind of disorienting.

INT: And how long between... I mean, you were in Japan, you were asked to go to China... how long between being asked to go to China and you actually going to China?

TB: Just a day or two. We had one commitment that we had to hold to, in a town not far from Nagoya, Japan, where the tournament was taking place: we had to go there right after the tournament. They waited till the very last minute to invite us. There were various reasons why we might have been invited; people wanted to take credit for it. We had an ITTF president then, named Roy Evans, who went to China and talked with Zhou Enlai, and apparently both Zhou Enlai and Mao liked table tennis, and there is some suggestion, "Look, you want to get back into making contact in the table tennis world, so this would be a very good idea, maybe, if you invited some teams." No mention apparently was made of the US. Later, there were certain incidents in Nagoya. Glenn Cowan, our hippie opportunist, managed to exchange gifts with Zhuang Zedong, the best player in the world in the Sixties. Our leader spoke to this Chinese delegate, gave him a Kennedy half-dollar - that might have meant something. We had an American woman, strangely, travelling with the Canadian team, and when the Canadian team and the English team were invited to China before the US team, she wanted to know if she could go, and they told her no. Then the very next day they invite us. So various people were kind of taking credit for how this came about. Actually, the Chinese came to Nagoya because the head of the Japan Table Tennis Association went there, wanted them to come, since China and Japan were the big powers in table tennis, but the Chinese hadn't been in competition for six years or so during the Cultural Revolution, so if this guy from Japan could get the Chinese to Nagoya, that would be terrific. However, in getting them there, China extracted a promise from him that Taiwan would not get into the ITTF; and what's more, Taiwan would maybe not stay in the Asian Table Tennis Federation, which is what happened later. So the Chinese made this move,...

INT: But I mean, did... (Change tapes)

INT: So did you suspect, Tim, that there had always been a pre-plan before you ever went there, that this was going to have...?

TB: Well, we all thought maybe, yeah, this is so, but it was all spontaneous. And I myself, having been at their delegates' meeting and seen the harangue that this guy was giving, I was really very surprised by the whole thing, and so was everybody else,

INT: So tell me what happened when you were walking down the steps of the plane in Peking.

TB: Well, even before then we took a train to the border station, and then a train to Canton, and... when we came up out of the Canton train station, we were met by Chinese, ringed around, and they're all (Claps) applauding us, but nothing's happening in their faces (Laughs), and I'm used to, you know, applause and somebody smiling, so that was kind of eerie. And, you know, and such a cross-section of different kinds of people... We had one very nice, very religious, but not the proselytizing type, and you know, she's worried about them being atheists, for instance, and... you know, would we really be coming back and... But we were always treated, of course, very hospitably from the moment that we got into Canton. (Brief overlap) After this ring-round of people, we'd see a big three-story Mao picture, you know, like "Big Brother's watching you". And we were all so inexperienced. We just... so strange to us, right? And then the city itself, Canton... I mean, I was so struck by the lack of cars. I don't know what the hell I expected. The streets were often dirt and very clean, very swept, and I had the sense of an abandoned building, an abandoned lot with bricks and stones and... the paint was peeling at all these places - that was so drab and gray, and... it felt like we were in a different kind of world.

INT: So you actually... sorry, I got this wrong then... you arrived in Canton, you didn't...

TB: Yeah, Canton first, and then we took a plane to Peking.

INT: And where was the actual table tennis?

TB: That was always in Peking, for a while. Later we went to Shanghai. And we were given lots of freedom, and there always seemed to be someone trailing behind us, but you know, we could go out into the streets. The people just looked at us, though, like, you know, they'd never seen anything like it, and I suppose they hadn't seen Americans. We were white, we were the first sports group there in... I don't know... 15 years or more.

INT: And from your team's point of view... basically table tennis players are young - it's basically a bunch of kids...

TB: Well, we had a cross-section: we had some teenage girls... The one girl really had an awful hard time adjusting after a while, because she didn't like Chinese food and she'd be in tears. You know, food is important; and finally they'd fix her a hamburger and French fries. We had another woman who got shingles. We had another fellow who... he just seemed totally unaware of how any of his actions might appear to anyone else. He would say things like, "Mao is the greatest intellectual and moral leader in the world. The US is a conforming kind of society. Here they are non-conformists. I think maybe I'd like to stay a little bit longer in China - in fact maybe a week... maybe I'd just like to stay here." And he ended up, after a while, getting sick and had to be taken to hospital, and screaming to his captain, "Don't leave me here!" and so forth. There was a lot of pressure on everybody. It wasn't just fun. It was so different to us all. It's hard to believe... you know, if you've been to Beijing now, I mean, it's just so hard to believe the difference to all of this unworldly people, for the most part.

INT: How many of there [sic] were you?

TB: There were 15. I mean, some were a little more experienced than others, but... we were all asked to write stories and, you know, work, really.

INT: When...


INT: Whendid the press start appearing? Were you...?

TB: Yeah, well, I think the Chinese thought that this was a ragbag bumbling bunch. (Laughs) God knows what kind of storthey were going to get, you know, in the outer world, so I guess they decided "We'd better bring in some professionals" after a while. Some of these guys had been in China before. But to us, the scene was more disorienting because you would see slogans, signs every place, red on white, "Long live the unity of the people of the world", something like... "Down with the US imperialists and all their running dogs!" And then once in Shanghai, at the bund, the waterfront, you would see these poster boards that would kind of take the place of newspapers, and there, you know, you'd see a picture of President Nixon, for instance, with a knife stuck into him, a little pygmy Nixon, and a Chinese giant, you know, taking care him and so forth, you know. So meanwhile, you know, everybody's smiling and being nice to us and so on, right? A lot of suspicion, sort of.