my op-ed on China and Olympics published in South China Morning Post, 14 Aug. 2012

If you take a quick look at the
popular Chinese microblog Sina
Weibo, you’ll notice a lot of
anger: “London, we have not
offended you. Why do you treat us
so badly?”; “China has been
wronged. Where is the justice?”; “In
2008, the Chinese people showed
such friendliness towards the
Olympians and the visitors. Why is
China getting such cold treatment in
London?”
These are the reactions to a string
of controversies involving Chinese
athletes: 16-year-old Ye Shiwen
was smeared with doubt
about whether she had taken
performance-enhancing drugs after
winning a gold medal in swimming;
Chinese women track cyclists Guo
Shuang and Gong Jinjie set two
world records but were given only a
silver medal instead of the gold they
felt they deserved; and, a judge
awarded the gold medal to a
Brazilian gymnast ahead of Chen
Yibing, known as the “king of rings”
in China and the favourite for the
title.
Such controversies led many
Chinese to believe that there was a
conspiracy against China at the
London Olympics.
I agree that China got a bad press
and it didn’t deserve that. Partly,
China has become the victim of its
own sporting success, which has
extended into fields traditionally
dominated by Westerners –
swimming, for example. There is
perhaps some jealousy, or at least
discomfort, in the West about
China’s achievements.
So, people instinctively regard
super performers like Ye as “cheats”
or the product of the ruthless statesports model copied from the Soviet
Union. Under such a system, the
government invests huge amounts
of money and resources in a few
who have the potential to win
Olympic gold.
I don’t approve of the system,
and it would seem I am not the only
Chinese to feel this way: on Sina
Weibo, between the bursts of anger,
there have been plenty of posts
questioning whether it is worth
spending millions on sports elites
just to dazzle the Olympic world,
and whether it is worth the suffering
endured by the athletes, not only the
relentless training but also the
emotional cost – children often
don’t see their families for years.
Still, there is no justification to
lash out at the Chinese Olympians
because of disapproval of the
system. Every Chinese gold
medallist won his or her glory on the
back of blood and sweat. And many
are very talented; China does after all
have a huge pool to choose from.
There may be another, deeprooted reason to explain China’s
unfavourable treatment in London.
Its rapid rise in the world has
aroused uneasiness and even fear
among people in the West. The bad
press, in some ways, is a reflection of
such negative feelings towards the
country.
This has touched a nerve. In
China, people take the Olympics
more seriously than most nations.
Many associate China’s Olympic
glory with its rise in the world and its
rising national strength. Remember,
we used to be called the “Sick Man
of Asia”.
A few days ago, the Global Times
ran an article about how Chinese
people shouldn’t be too gracious in
the face of unjust treatment at the
Olympics, and encouraged people
to voice their displeasure.
As a Chinese who has lived in the
West, I can understand both sides’
perspective. I think China should
modify its sports model and take a
far more relaxed approach towards
Olympic gold medals. We’ve proved
our brilliance to the world and the
medals have served their purpose as
a social morale booster. If an athlete
wins a silver medal, he should feel
proud – as long as he has done his
best – instead of shame, as was the
case of weightlifter Wu Jingbiao.
Even though China finished
second overall in the medal table, it
doesn’t mean it is a big sporting
nation. The ready availability of
sports facilities in schools and the
inclusion of all kinds of sports for the
masses are far more significant.
As for the West, it has to steel
itself for a more powerful China in
the economic, military and sporting
field.
Lijia Zhang is a Beijing-based
writer, commentator and author
of Socialism is Great! A Worker’s
Memoir of the New China

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5 thoughts on “my op-ed on China and Olympics published in South China Morning Post, 14 Aug. 2012

  1. The outrage is noted, but the truth is that home countries are often held responsibe for refereeing decisuions taken by international officials. The home advantage has always produced apparently biased decisions. Beijing was no exception: one British Tae Kwon Do competitor was totally cheated of her medal and no doubt other countries had their own stories, as they have in London. The controversy over Ye Shiwen is particularly ridiculous: any athlete at any games who performed that far above expectations would raise eyebrows – fairly or not. It was US officials, not Brits, who spoke out. In the end, it is a sign of insecurity, not strength, to make waves about inevitable misjudgements. GB made no excuses when our star female cyclist was disqualified for an offence which had been overlooked in previous competitions. No country has the opportunity to influence results more tham once or twice a century. It is silly of Chinese officials to suggest there is a conspiracy, especially because it detracts from another brilliant Olympic performance by the Chinese team.

  2. In the Olympics there are feelings of “we were cheated” in every single event that is judged and not measured. If the swimmer or the cyclist is faster, then they win. But in gymnastics, diving, ice skating and all the forms of “judged” competition, people feel cheated. It is not just China. I wonder how many athletes or teams felt cheated from the Chinese domination of the 2008 gymnastics.

  3. Here in the U.S. it didn’t seem to me that China got such bad press. There was the incident with the Chinese 16 year old swimmer who swam faster than the men — only time will tell whether that was legit — and it is true the Brazilian gymnast appeared to get the gold for slightly political reasons (Brazil hosts the next games). But on the positive side there were lots of good Chinese swimmers and gymnasts, too many to name in fact. It’s a shame China’s best hurdler got hurt, but he has already proven China can produce great sprinters, though nothing like the Africans of course. Who can? China is doing fine in the Olympics department. Relax. Magnaminmity in victory, graciousness in not winning — those are really the ultimate things to aim for — something the Americans have certainly not mastered.

    Meanwhile, you are producing the best writers in the world, though the world hasn’t woken up to that fact yet. They will though.

  4. I loved this piece, thank you Lijia for being so eloquent. Always enjoy reading your blog posts.
    You say it well here: “e. I think China should modify its sports model and take a
    far more relaxed approach towards Olympic gold medals. We’ve proved our brilliance to the world and the medals have served their purpose as a social morale booster.”

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