China’s Growth and Memory of Cold War Era

Around the time when the 25th WWTC in Dortmund was held, Japanese table tennis was at its peak. The Championships also has a special meaning for Korea as well, as the Korean women’s team composed of Cho Kyung-ja, Choi Kyung-ja and Hwang Yool-ja earned their first podium in history of the WTTC.

▲ Korean team earned their first podium at the 25th WTTC in Dortmund.

In the final rounds, they got silver medal as they defeated China but lost to Japan. Composed of youngsters, the Korean team contributed to make Korea known to the world that was considered at the time as a weak nation. Germany of the time was divided into East and West Germany and the WTTC was held in West Germany. It is found on record that the South Korean delegation was kindly welcomed by the West German government as they both were operated under a capitalistic system.

On the other hand, the ‘ideology frame’ wounded the Korean team at the Championships held afterwards. The 1961 WTTC was held in Beijing, China, when the country was referred as ‘Communist China’ during the Cold War era. The next WTTC held in 1963 was also hosted by a communist country, Czech (Prague) and Korean team could not participate in the Championships. The Korean women’s team could make their way back into WTTC after a decade when the 30th WTTC was hosted in again West Germany (Munich) in 1969. It is only an assumption but the Korean team may have different history in table tennis if the Korean team could continue their growth in WTTCs.

▲ Rong Guotuan earning the first gold medal for the Chinese table tennis team.

At the Dortmund 1959, men’s singles was the only gold medal that Japan could not get as China’s Rong Guotuan won the event. It was China’s first gold medal in WTTCs. The gold medal has a significant meaning in that it was considered as China’s signal to become the world’s best in table tennis. The Chinese team’s swift attacks made in fast tempo while standing close to the table got more attention than when the Japanese penholders attacked the Europeans’ defensive table tennis. The gold medal in 1959 WTTC was the first world title China ever had in any kind of international sports competition. This may be where the Chinese’ love for table tennis has begun.

In fact, China won men’s singles, women’s singles and men’s team event in the Beijing 1961 while Japan won men’s doubles, mixed doubles and women’s team event. China won men’s singles, doubles and team event and chased Japan in WTTC held in Prague two years after. In Ljubljana 1965 which was the 28th WTTC, China turned the game around while winning all five events except women’s singles and mixed doubles that Japan won. Zhuang Zedong, the legend of Chinese table tennis, achieved three consecutive wins in men’s singles.

▲ Zhuang Zedong, the legend of table tennis who achieved three consecutive wins in men’s singles.

However, China also had to go through their own history. Chinese team could not participated in WTTC twice due to Cultural Revolution. Japan returned to the top as China couldn’t be in the game and defended their position while winning major events in Stockholm 1967 and Munich 1969. At the WTTCs, it is worth to note Sweden’s Alser Hans and Johansson Kjell pair’s two consecutive wins in men’s doubles. This was Sweden’s first achievement in WTTC, who becomes one of the important figures of world table tennis. The Sweden team’s coach of the time was Japan’s Ogimura Ichiro, a former world champion. Sweden demonstrated their presence by winning men’s singles (S. Bengtsson) in Nagoya 1971.

Written by_Han In-su | Photo by_Table Tennis Monthly Database & ITTF Museum