Table tennis has come a long way from its origins, when squiffy Victorian gents – possibly officers serving in India – used cigar box lids to bat champagne corks at each other. “Other nations looked at the dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner. We looked at the dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff-whaff,” Johnson told his audience in Beijing.
An alternative history credits Jaques of London, who marketed a game called “gossima” and then “ping pong”. Either way, it rapidly spread through the empire and beyond; by the 1930s it had reached China, where a small Shanghai workshop sprang up catering to “pingpangqiu” enthusiasts.
Two decades later, Mao declared table tennis China’s national sport. Then, in 1959, China won the world championship. Zhou, the then premier, declared the year one of “double happiness”: the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic and its first major sporting victory. The small Shanghai business was formally launched as the Double Happiness brand, now known in English as DHS.
Lou Shihe, the company’s general manager, says: “When Rong Guotuan won the ping pong championships, it changed the Chinese image in the western world. Westerners used to have the impression of China as the ‘sick man of Asia’. China promoted the sport as a political campaign. The government called for the whole nation to learn from ping pong players.”
The Great Helmsman himself took it up – with a Double Happiness racket, says Lou – and even the youngest were encouraged to play. “Set up a battlefield on the rectangular table … With deep unity and friendship we promote the revolutionary work-style!” began one children’s song. “Regard a ping pong ball as the head of your capitalist enemy. Hit it with your socialist bat and you have won a point for the motherland,” the top athletes were exhorted.
July 27, 2012
The story of China's obsession with ping pong