Ping Pong Diplomats: Chinese couple opens first table tennis center in DC

World Today

A couple from China have opened Washington DC’s only full-time table tennis center—using ping pong to bridge the culture divide between the U.S. and China.

CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.

Duan Changping and Charlene Liu fell in love while attending college in Anhui Province, China in the 1960s—in love with each other and with ping-pong.

“He always won. I could not get 5 points against him at that time,” Charlene Duan, remembering her early matches against her future husband said.

After marrying, they taught table tennis in China and later moved to the U.S. near Washington, D.C. while continuing to teach and play.

They were surprised to learn there was no full time table tennis facility in the U.S. capital city, so in 2014 they opened the Washington DC Table Tennis Center.

“People love it…they think table tennis is very good for their health,” Liu said.

They started from nothing and now hundreds of people come to play each month. Players of all ages and many backgrounds come for coaching, tournaments and league play.

Their new business is a success, but they have a bigger goal in mind: spreading their love of ping pong in the United States and using it as a cultural bridge between the two countries.

“When people play ping pong they have one common language: ping pong. They can talk about technique and famous players and in a short time become good friends,” says Duan Changping.

Steadily, more and more Americans are taking up table tennis at the center.

“Before, most of the kids were from Chinese families. Now I think less than half. In American families, more and more kids are playing,” says Duan.

Mossa Barandao took up Ping Pong a few years ago and plays at the Washington DC Table Tennis Center.

As his interest in the sport has grown so has his interest in China. He has been studying Mandarin and hopes to visit China soon. He admires the dedication and drive of Chinese table tennis players.

“It was that notion that drove me to say I’m not only going to play the game, I want to seek to understand more about the culture,” says Barandao.

Charlene Liu and Duan Changing hope more people have similar experiences, and become ping pong diplomats.