Democracy dies in the dark
China filled the Olympic team with naturalized citizens, but fans only like them when they win
Zhu Yi and Eileen Gu had very different experiences at the 2022 Olympics, but after growing up in the United States, they both chose to compete for China. (Joshua Carroll / The Washington Post) The
crowd is eagerly waiting for skier Eileen Gu to land again. And she repeats it over and over again. Born to a Chinese mother in California at a press conference on Tuesday
, 18-year-old Gu, who is currently competing for China, answers politically sensitive questions after the first Olympic gold medal in the big air of freestyle skiing. increase. An event where the code switches between a language and a very different political culture.
Want the latest Olympic news? Download The Posts app and turn on alert notifications for Sports and Breaking News. From English-speaking reporters, she deftly fielded questions about her citizenship and what she thought about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, about whom there has been a concern after she accused a former senior official of sexual assault. Then Chinese journalists asked whether Gu, as a “Beijing girl,” could say a typical local phrase and disclose what her favorite local dish is. Gu, who speaks Mandarin fluently, thickened the throaty “er” of her Beijing accent and went with Peking duck. The story continues below advertisement The response to her performances, on and off the slopes at the Olympics, has been a hero reception in China. But if there is a mirror image of Gus’s success story, it’s the experience of Zhu Yi, another Californiaborn athlete who is also competing for China as a first-time Olympian in Beijing.
Zhu, a 19yearold figure skater with Chinese heritage, fell twice in consecutive days of competition, drawing a wave of online abuse on Chinese social media. Nationalists insulted her lack of fluency in Mandarin and questioned her suitability for Olympic competition, to the point that China’s Internet censors stepped in. Chinese social media savages Californiaborn skater Zhu Yi over competition falls Side by side, the two stories capture the twists and traumas of the Chinese Olympic Committees’ extensive efforts to recruit international athletes for Beijing 2022. More than ever, China has relied on athletes granted citizenship for events where it previously struggled to win medals in events including figure skating, ice hockey, and skiing.
The experiment to internationalize Chinese sports has not sat easily with fiercely nationalist fans who are watching the foreign-born athletes closely. When everything goes well, as it has with Gu, viewers accept them with pride. But one slipup, in competition or elsewhere, and the attempt to straddle the line between nations can become perilous.
That balancing act has been worsened by a lack of official explanations of how the naturalized athletes fit within the Chinese legal system or the future of its national team. China does not recognize dual citizenship, and conservatives strongly oppose any relaxation of the countrys strict immigration laws. “Naturalized athletes are a shortcut — a contingency plan — for the host country to catch up and improve performance in a particular field,” said Sean Wang, a Beijing-based sports commentator. Story continues below advertisement The search, Wang said, has focused primarily on athletes of Chinese descent because “for the average Chinese, it might be too much to swallow if we had a national team entirely of nonChineselooking faces, especially during Winter Games on home soil.” He added: “In a conservative setting like Chinese sports, the tolerance for difference and the taste for diversity is still very limited.” “When I realized it was happening, I was pretty shocked,” said Susan Brownell, an anthropologist and expert on Chinese sports at the University of Missouri at St Louis. “The reason it hadn’t happened before was, quite frankly, xenophobia.”
Until recently Hua, whose father is Chinese, was an outlier in a sports system dominated by athletes trained in state-run academies. For many individual summer sports, a nationwide effort to identify talented children at a young age and train them in an ultra-competitive environment has delivered great results for China.
But winter sports presented a new set of challenges. A small community of skaters and skiers wasn’t enough to pool locally trained talent. In November 2018, China’s sports administration requested winter sports schools and federations to relax nationality restrictions to encourage competition between overseas Chinese and foreigners.
The story continues below the ad
Retired Chinese figure skater Chen Lu began her search for international talent, and eventually, four US-born figure skaters came to China for training.
However, authorities remained wary of the comprehensive internationalization of development programs. In the case of ice hockey, bringing in international talent was a pause, attracting international coaches and players in a short period of time without a disorganized approach, more often in Chinese youth clubs. Mark Simon, a Canadian businessman who has been doing that, says for over a decade.
“About a year ago, it became clear that using only Chinese and only traditional players wouldn’t work,” Simon said. The female team, including 11 of the 23 naturalized players, scored two wins before being excluded from the qualifying round. The men’s team is 10 out of 25 Chinese-born players who will play their first match against the United States on Thursday.
The story continues below the ad
“I don’t think it sends a good message. I don’t have dual citizenship, but if I say that the only way to get half-hearted results is to have some white people on the team, the public doesn’t understand. I think. “
China’s uncertainty about how to deal with naturalized players, as Zhou Yoshihide, a Canadian-born goalkeeper named Kimberly Newell on Twitter after graduating from Princeton University’s women’s team, told reporters. Seems to have brought a strange moment. They were allowed to speak English.
The mood among China’s candid nationalists is the infamous instability, and the swing from flattery to attack is also common.
Democracy dies in the dark