J-term Course: Game Change: Bridging the U.S.-China Divide Through Sport

J-term Course: Game Change: Bridging the U.S.-China Divide Through Sport

Course Number: GSGS 2530

Term:                   January Term 2024

Language of Instruction:        English

Dates:                 12/02/23, 01/01/24 -01/12/24

Locations:          Charlottesville, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai

Instructors:         Stephen Mull, Justin O’Jack

Class Hours:          14 class hours [800 minutes minimum]

Course Credits:      1 semester hour

Maximum Enrollment: 10 students

Course Description

A key factor in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China in 1979 was the dramatic exchange of visits in 1971 by both countries’ table tennis teams, which made a significant dent in the mutual hostility that had prevailed in each country since 1949 and set the stage for President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972. 

In a time of increased difficulty and suspicion between the world’s two largest economies, the course will explore the roots of current tensions and misunderstandings in the bilateral relationship as well as the value of people-to-people exchange through sport in creating conditions for improved mutual understanding and security.  During visits to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai, on the 45th anniversary of the resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, students will learn about the history of “ping pong diplomacy”, U.S. and Chinese official perspectives on the current relationship, and the challenges in cross-cultural communication, while engaging in a series of table tennis matches with Chinese counterparts. 

The course will also feature visits to important Chinese cultural and historical sites such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Shanghai Bund, and key sites in Hong Kong.  Students participating in the course may be invited to participate in interviews with University, U.S. and Chinese journalists and be featured in local, national, and international press coverage.

Learning Objectives

This course will help enable students to develop the knowledge, perspective, experience, and skills necessary to lead in a diverse and globally connected world. Students will gain an understanding of the important role civilian diplomacy and cultural and educational exchanges played in the development of U.S.-China bilateral relations, and they will develop intercultural competence through experiential learning as student ambassadors of the University of Virginia in China.

Course Prerequisites

Some experience with table tennis is required.  Proficiency in Chinese language and knowledge of China are not required.


Enrollment in the class will be through application only.  Interested students should submit a no more than 500 word essay explaining their motivation for participating in the class, the goals they would like to achieve by the end of the program, and their experience in table tennis to [email protected] no later than October 15, 2023.

Methods of Instruction

This course will be taught through a combination of classroom lectures, guest lectures and fieldtrips organized by the course instructors in cooperation with host organizations in China.

Course Requirements

Attendance (20%)

Attendance during class, on field trips, and all activities organized as part of this course is required.

Participation (30%)

The success of this course depends on the active participation of all students and therefore is a very important component. Participation involves reflective mental engagement and active involvement in class discussions and during all field trips and activities related to the course.

Assignments (50%)

Guided daily journaling reflecting on the content of classes, field trips, course-related activities, and personal cultural experiences during the trip will be collected at the end of the program and graded based on insights displayed and understanding gained over the duration of the course.  We will ask one student each day to share a daily journal entry for publication on a public facing blog documenting the trip.


Students' international transportation, hotel and most other travel expenses will be covered by scholarships.