Inventions and Innovations

Rowden Fullen (2000)

According to statistics, a total of 13 inventions and 24 innovations have been made in the world of table tennis since 1902. Of these, China has accounted for 7 inventions and 11 innovations, or 53% and 47% respectively. Impressive as these figures may be, they all date back to the period from 1959 to 1980. During the ‘80’s to date only the Swedes and the South Koreans it is commonly believed, have come up with anything new, while China has fallen away into oblivion (except for the reverse penhold BH ‘discovered’ by Shi in Harbin)

Such a belief may however in fact be erroneous. Since no world champion in the history of table tennis has ever played an all out attacking game with the kind of combination racket used by Deng Yaping, we may well consider her ingenious style as a Chinese innovation.

The sport of table tennis, which has continuously improved throughout long decades of evolution, now leaves less and less room for innovation. However Deng Yaping’s successes convince us that the possibilities are by no means completely exhausted. We only have to look at the results in Europe of players like Herbert Neubauer, beating ex-world champions, to see that there are still new avenues to be explored in the areas of both equipment and style development.

In a sense, Deng Yaping as a world champion was forced into being by the new international situation, by the pressure brought to bear on the Chinese players by foreign competition. Without the growing threat of foreign table tennis powers, Zhang Xielin and Li Chaofeng would not have felt such a strong need to devise a new type of game, nor would Yao Guozhi have so eagerly sought help from the Tianjin Rubber Research Institute.

We can see this more clearly if we briefly review the history of world table tennis. It was the powerful strength of Europe and Japan that forced China to emerge as a newly rising force in the 1950’s. The Chinese contingent dominated the world for a quarter of a century, thus forcing the Europeans to change their way of playing and research new methods, primarily based on spin, to beat them. In this sense we can say that the powerful European teams of the last 15 years were forced into being by the dominance of the Chinese, although the major research as it were was carried out by two countries, Hungary and Sweden. Both of these countries worked single-mindedly over a number of years to secure victories over China and are directly responsible for much of the development in European table tennis over the last 15 – 20 years.

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