On January 03, 2024, a delegation of 12 University of Virginia students, under the leadership of Ambassador Stephen Mull, embarked on a unique journey to China. As the first major trip from any American university visiting China (post-COVID 19), we stood at the forefront of Sino-American relations.

The trip was a part of a course on diplomacy and international relations, and aimed to explore the role of sports in fostering international relations. Our delegation visited Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, engaging in a series of cultural exchanges, meetings with government officials, and friendly ping pong matches with local students (at Tsinghua University, Fudan University, and Shanghai School of Sports). Similarly, a delegation of Chinese students visited the United States in December of 2023. The program was aptly named the “Game Change: Bridging the U.S. - China Divide Through Sport,” a nod to the historic 1971 visit of the U.S. table tennis team to China, which paved the way for the normalization of relations between the two countries.

Our 12-day trip was long and eventful, filled with a myriad of experiences that broadened our perspectives and deepened our understanding of China. We met with government officials, business leaders, and academics, discussing a wide range of topics from trade relations to cultural exchange. For example, our delegation had the opportunity to attend the 45th anniversary dinner of China-US Relations at the historic Diaoyutai Guesthouse, where we met Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Ambassador Xie Feng. We visited historic sites, such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and explored the bustling streets of Beijing and Shanghai.

Most notably, though, was the ping pong. We had the opportunity to meet and play with Olympic Champions, World Champions, and the greatest players of all time (such as Ding Ning, Zhang Yining, and Wang Liqin). These experiences were not only humbling but also inspiring, as we witnessed firsthand the power of sports to transcend boundaries and bring people together.

Selfie with Wang Liqin

Selfie with Wang Liqin

As a part of our course we each wrote a blog post about our experiences. Here is mine:

Today marks my final day in Hong Kong! I came a couple of days before my team and the last five days have been an incredible journey, blending the vibrant energy of city life with the serene beauty of nature. Hong Kong is a city of contrasts, where modern skyscrapers stand in harmony with lush green parks and historic temples.

Last night was a particularly memorable highlight. I had the privilege of speaking at the UVA alumni reception. Addressing a room filled with accomplished professionals and esteemed alumni was a humbling experience, especially as an undergraduate. The exchange of ideas, stories of success, and insightful advice have left a lasting impression on me.

Today’s adventures began with a visit to the Peak of Hong Kong, accompanied by Matt O’Neil, COO of Citi Bank. The panoramic views from the peak were simply breathtaking, offering a unique perspective of the city’s skyline and its surrounding waters. Our conversation with Matt revolved around the myriad opportunities Hong Kong presents, from its dynamic business landscape to its rich cultural heritage. His insights into the city’s evolution and its role in global finance were particularly enlightening.

The afternoon was spent exploring Sik Sik Yuan, a historic temple built by the mage Wong Dai Sin. This visit offered a profound cultural exchange. The temple’s intricate architecture and the tranquil ambiance provided a stark contrast to the bustling city streets. Learning about the temple’s history, the Dao-ist philosophies it embodies, and its significance to the local community deepened my appreciation for Hong Kong’s diverse cultures.

As I prepare to leave, I reflect on the experiences of the past few days. Hong Kong has captivated me with its energy, its people, and its unique blend of tradition and modernity. I leave with a heart full of gratitude and a mind enriched by new perspectives. Hong Kong is not just a part of my family heritage, but mine as well.

For more blogs on the 2nd Generation of Ping Pong Diplomacy, please visit the UVA Ping Pong Tour.