Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Brief History Of Ping Pong

A Fascinating Subject

How many millions of people in this world would list ping pong as their favorite sport? Due to the current state of affairs in many parts of the globe, there is no way to know for certain, but you can be sure that it would be many, many millions indeed!

Americans often relegate the sport of ping pong to the category of "past time," but in reality ping pong has much more to offer. A few hours of research at your local library could very well lead to a lifelong interest in this fascinating subject.

The Beginning

Our story begins in the vast continent of Eurasia, in the empire of China, which was once called Indochina. Imperial courtiers of the fifteenth century Han dynasty were quite partial to a parlor game in which a small "ball" fashioned from a hen's bladder was bounced back and forth over a "net" made from a section of fishing net. In this early incarnation of the sport, players did not keep score because it was considered improper to compete against someone of different social standing. You don't want to beat the boss in Beijing!

Ping pong was actually named hundreds of years later by the world-famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng.* Due to language barriers, the name "Chang" was garbled into the word "Ping," but scholars disagree about the origin of the word "Pong." Some say it is a bastardization of the Mandarin dialect phrase Pon-gu, loosely translated as "table tennis." Say them ten times fast, and chances are you will discover that even the words "ping pong" sound Chinese!

World War I

It took a global cataclysm to popularize the sport of ping pong. As the 19th century British Empire expanded to counter the growing threat of Kaiser Wilhelm and communist Russia, soldiers stationed in Asia took up the sport, adding their own touches--for instance, the use of a small wooden "racquet" instead of the bare hand to hit the ball. Later, for simplicity's sake, the term "paddle" replaced the antiquated British word "racquet."

The Rules of the Game

Each round of ping pong is divided into 21 points. Players alternate serves, vying to capture as many points as they can before a certain time limit expires. In tournament play, the time limit is to be determined by a judge and written in a small, sealed envelope. The time can vary between two and seven minutes, depending, but in general hovers near the two minute mark.

A player scores a "point" by forcing his opponent to touch the ball with his body (as in the rules of fencing) or by tricking his opponent into hitting the ball Out of the Bounds. The Bounds are determined by the white lines along the edge of the table, which extend infinitely upwards and to the sides. Corresponding boundary lines exist on the ground around the table. These are popularly known as The Grid, and they are used to determine the service areas and also to demarcate special zones where shots may be eligible for extra points.

Since professional-level match play in Korea often moves quicker than the human eye can see, officials there resort to high-tech cameras to "call the shots."

In Conclusion

Ping pong surely ranks alongside gunpowder, mathematics, and spaghetti as one of the greatest Chinese contributions to Western Civilization. It is not only a sport that encourages quick thinking, but also one that is considered by many experts to be as strategic as chess. Ping pong paddles come in all shapes and colors. In conclusion, ping pong has a rich and varied history.

*N.B. After the globalization of the sport they helped popularize, Siamese twins Chang and Eng died of grief.


Wordmaven said...

The photo at the beginning of this article on Ping Pong doesn't look like it was taken in Indochina, but rather in Outdo Mississippi!

Anonymous said...

Hens bladders? Do you think this is where the term "he really knocked the piss out of that one" came from?