Following the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the relationship between China and the United States was diminished to a virtual absence of diplomatic relations, alongside a presence of trade embargoes and Cold War propaganda. No official American delegation had traveled to the People’s Republic in over 20 years. 

By the early 1970s, China’s relationship with the Soviet Union had waned, resulting in several border clashes between the two countries. Chairman Mao believed developing a relationship with the United States might serve as a deterrent against the Soviets. Richard Nixon, who had become president of the United States in 1969, had made opening China a top concern of his administration, having written in 1967 that “We simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations.” By 1971, the two nations were looking to open up a dialogue with one another. 

America and China eventually engaged in secret communications, but the real breakthrough came about via a chance public encounter between a pair of ping-pong players during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championship in Nagoya, Japan. This encounter led to a visit by the American team to China, which would be the first trip by a group of Americans to the country in decades. Approximately one year later, the National Committee on U.S.-Chinese Relations organized a visit by the Chinese team to the United States. That trip would include visits across the country, from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, with Detroit and Oakland University/Meadow Brook Hall being stops on their journey.

Why it was decided for the Chinese team to visit Oakland University, a relatively small and new school, is not certain. However, it is possible that Oakland's unique focus on area studies, including Chinese areas, was a factor in the decision.

In this exhibit you will find documents and images from the Oakland University Archives collections that illustrate the historic visit to Oakland University and Meadow Brook Hall, as well as information on the Area Studies program that may have been what set OU apart from others when it came to selecting which locations the Chinese team would visit on their trip.

Janet and Donald O'Dowd greeting the Chinese team and delegation
Former Oakland University President Donald O'Dowd and wife Janet greeting the Chinese team and delegation.