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Obituary | Zhuang Zedong
China's table tennis circle mourned the passing of world champion player and renowned ping-pong diplomat, Zhuang Zedong, who died Sunday at the age of 73 of cancer, in Beijing.
Zhuang played a pivotal role in the "ping-pong diplomacy" that led to the thaw in Sino-US relations in the 1970s.
Major figures in the table tennis world expressed their condolences at his death. The three-time singles world champion was remembered not only for his dazzling skills but his part in improving the friendship between Chinese and American people.
"His contribution has gone beyond the sport of table tennis. People who remember his medals and titles will cherish his ice-breaking move at the 1971 World Championships as well," Xu Yinsheng, Zhuang's former doubles partner and president of Chinese Table Tennis Association, told China Daily on Tuesday.
After a game at the Japan Worlds, Zhuang gave a present to United States player Glenn Cowan, who had inadvertently rode on the Chinese team's coach, in April 1971 when China and the US were still Cold War rivals.
Later, the US squad was invited to visit China for an exhibition tour, which paved the way for a visit by then US president Richard Nixon in 1972 and the eventual establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979.
"I am so proud to be a witness of the historic encounter. Zhuang's effort in helping normalize the two nations' relations will be remembered forever," said Xu, who was also on the same bus.
Liu Guoliang, former Olympic champion and current head coach of the national team, hailed Zhuang as his idol and said his death was a huge loss to table tennis, and China.
More than 337,000 micro bloggers had posted their grief and condolences on a specially created account on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, by Tuesday afternoon.
Zhuang was born in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, and became one of the world's top players in the 1960s, when he claimed three singles world titles in a row (1961-65).
Zhuang was first married to pianist Bao Huiqiao in 1967, but got divorced in 1985.
He later married Chinese-born Japanese Sasaki Atsuko, who gave up her Japanese citizenship to marry him in 1987.
In 1976, Zhuang ended a two-year stint as China's sports minister. He went on to become the coach at the Youth Palace, a major sports and entertainment center for teenagers in Beijing, in 1984. He was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2008.
(China Daily 02/13/2013 page2)