Ping Pong diplomacy and its disturbing aftermath:
A BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPH preserves the moment the world changed forever. On the left is Zhuang Zedong, China's most storied table tennis champion. On the right is Glenn Cowan, an up-and-coming American known for his long hair and gregarious personality. They are showing off the presents they exchanged at the 1971 international championships in Nagoya, Japan: Cowan is holding a tapestry of the Huangshan Mountains, Zhuang a T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign and the words LET IT BE. Their broad guns suggest more than a polite response to a foreigner's gift.
Just days after the image appeared in newspapers around the globe, the Chinese delegation unexpectedly invited the U.S. team to tour the mainland. In the midst of both the cold war and the Vietnam War, Cowan and 14 companions were whisked to Beijing, becoming the first Americans to venture behind the bamboo curtain since the Communist takeover in 1949. Their journey turned out to be the first public move in a rapprochement between the most powerful nation and the most populous.
... Fame seemed to unhinge Cowan—once he was treated like a rock star he came to believe he was a rock star—and he began to experience episodes of the mental illness that would torment him for the rest of his life.
At one stage Cowan believed that there was some sort of mystical connection between himself, Mao Zedong and Mick Jagger. Together they were going to do great things. As for Zhuang:
He found that alliance with the Gang of Four, the faction headed by Mao’s third wife, Jiang Qing. So many private audiences was he granted with her that rumours of an affair began to swirl – rumours that Zhuang always denied, describing her as “like a mother to me”. Installed in the top ranks of power, however, Zhuang organised mass meetings at which denunciations, beatings and self-criticism were the norm. “I was on the wrong side,” he said in 2007. “I did many dreadful things that I now regret.”
What you have is two contrasting case studies in madness and society: Cowan was free to develop a ludicrously grandiose individual conception of his role in Sino-American rapprochement - which he believed in proper American style would enable him to develop his personal brand across lucrative business activities - and then deflate into mental illness; Zhuang was tracked into a kind of state career in megalomania as Minister of Sport and folded into the general madness of the times.