Nathan Chen: An American Hero Despised by China

Commentary Who is the real China? Eileen Gu or the chained woman? These questions were recently asked by Li Yuan, a New York Times columnist. The answer is both. China is a country where millions of people live in abject poverty and are subjected to the most vile of abuses. It’s also a country where, every now and then, one person (other than Chinese leader Xi Jinping) gets the limelight. They get their 15 minutes of fame; they find themselves lavished with praise. However, the praise is fleeting, and today’s heroes quickly become yesterday’s news. Right now, Gu, an athlete I discussed in great detail a few days ago, is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame. Once the Winter Olympics are over, however, she will be quickly forgotten. Maybe not quite as forgotten as the poor woman in Jiangsu Province, who was found with a chain around her neck. But a couple of weeks from now, Gu will be forgotten. Now, although Gu and the chained woman, identified as Yang ***xia, are both reflective of China, one is more reflective of the country than the other. You can probably guess which one. For every Gu, there are millions of Yang ***xia’s. Every 7.4 seconds, a woman in China is assaulted. This is a country where abuse, both the verbal and physical kinds, is rampant. This is a country where racism appears to be a hobby for many citizens. Last month, American basketball player Sonny Weems was subjected to horrific levels of racial abuse from “fans” while playing in China. More recently, another American athlete, Nathan Chen, a figure skater currently competing for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, was heavily criticized on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. A three-time World champion, a three-time Grand Prix Final champion, and six-time U.S. national champion in figure skating, Chen is a supreme athlete. Born in Salt Lake City to Chinese immigrant parents, Chen, unlike the aforementioned Gu, is a proud American. Chen has performed heroically in Beijing, picking up his first ever Olympic gold in the men’s individual event. Americans celebrated his victory; the Chinese, however, did not. In fact, they targeted the 22 year old with vitriol, labelling him a “traitor.” Chen has been told to “get out of China,” with some social media commentators complaining that Chen is far “too white.” Yes, “too white.” Nathan Chen competes in the men’s free skate program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 9, 2022. (Mark Zaleski/AP Photo) Racism in China has been well documented for years. But the abuse directed at Chen involves more than “just” racism. It involves something called hanjian, a pejorative term specifically reserved for traitors. The word, a portmanteau of Han, the majority ethnic group in China, and Jian, a term used to refer to illegal activities, is a truly caustic one. It is the equivalent of using the word “treasonous” at home. Hanjian is closely tied to identitarianism. Yes, I know, identitarianism is more commonly associated with white supremacists who support the political interests of a very particular ethnic group. However, China has its own form of identitarianism. Let’s call it “identitarianism with Chinese characteristics.” In a paper published back in 2019, an academic by the name of Chenchen Zhang discussed the rise of populist rhetoric in China. This type of populism—which I refer to as pathological populism (because populism isn’t always a bad thing)—has gripped Chinese society. “The past few years,” wrote the author, “have seen an emerging discourse on Chinese social media that combines the claims, vocabulary and style” of questionable figures in Western countries “with previous forms of nationalism and racism in Chinese cyberspace.” In other words, pathological populism provokes a “hostility” toward people who are not Chinese. In the eyes of China’s ethnic purists, Chen’s “sin” of representing the United States—China’s biggest rival—is an unforgivable one. Over the past two decades, the rapid development of online communication in China has resulted in the creation of dynamic digital spaces that have allowed “citizens to participate in public deliberations that are otherwise impossible,” noted Zhang. Although “new media in China” has enabled the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “to develop sophisticated censorship and persuasion measures to strengthen authoritarian rule,” the very same platforms have also birthed a new type of consciousness, a hyper nationalistic consciousness. With this type of thinking, it’s very much a zero-sum game. Either you happen to be someone like Gu, a hero in the eyes of millions of Chinese people, or you’re Chen, a “traitor,” a person who is clearly “too white” to be truly Chinese. Not that any of this should really bother him. Chen is much more than a gifted athlete. He is an American hero, a young man who deserves great praise once he arrives back on American soil. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author

Nathan Chen: An American Hero Despised by China

Commentary

Who is the real China? Eileen Gu or the chained woman? These questions were recently asked by Li Yuan, a New York Times columnist. The answer is both.

China is a country where millions of people live in abject poverty and are subjected to the most vile of abuses. It’s also a country where, every now and then, one person (other than Chinese leader Xi Jinping) gets the limelight. They get their 15 minutes of fame; they find themselves lavished with praise. However, the praise is fleeting, and today’s heroes quickly become yesterday’s news.

Right now, Gu, an athlete I discussed in great detail a few days ago, is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame. Once the Winter Olympics are over, however, she will be quickly forgotten. Maybe not quite as forgotten as the poor woman in Jiangsu Province, who was found with a chain around her neck. But a couple of weeks from now, Gu will be forgotten.

Now, although Gu and the chained woman, identified as Yang ***xia, are both reflective of China, one is more reflective of the country than the other. You can probably guess which one.

For every Gu, there are millions of Yang ***xia’s. Every 7.4 seconds, a woman in China is assaulted. This is a country where abuse, both the verbal and physical kinds, is rampant.

This is a country where racism appears to be a hobby for many citizens. Last month, American basketball player Sonny Weems was subjected to horrific levels of racial abuse from “fans” while playing in China.

More recently, another American athlete, Nathan Chen, a figure skater currently competing for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, was heavily criticized on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. A three-time World champion, a three-time Grand Prix Final champion, and six-time U.S. national champion in figure skating, Chen is a supreme athlete. Born in Salt Lake City to Chinese immigrant parents, Chen, unlike the aforementioned Gu, is a proud American.

Chen has performed heroically in Beijing, picking up his first ever Olympic gold in the men’s individual event. Americans celebrated his victory; the Chinese, however, did not. In fact, they targeted the 22 year old with vitriol, labelling him a “traitor.” Chen has been told to “get out of China,” with some social media commentators complaining that Chen is far “too white.” Yes, “too white.”

Nathan Chen competes in the men's free skate
Nathan Chen competes in the men’s free skate program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville, Tenn., on Jan. 9, 2022. (Mark Zaleski/AP Photo)

Racism in China has been well documented for years. But the abuse directed at Chen involves more than “just” racism. It involves something called hanjian, a pejorative term specifically reserved for traitors. The word, a portmanteau of Han, the majority ethnic group in China, and Jian, a term used to refer to illegal activities, is a truly caustic one. It is the equivalent of using the word “treasonous” at home.

Hanjian is closely tied to identitarianism. Yes, I know, identitarianism is more commonly associated with white supremacists who support the political interests of a very particular ethnic group. However, China has its own form of identitarianism. Let’s call it “identitarianism with Chinese characteristics.”

In a paper published back in 2019, an academic by the name of Chenchen Zhang discussed the rise of populist rhetoric in China. This type of populism—which I refer to as pathological populism (because populism isn’t always a bad thing)—has gripped Chinese society.

“The past few years,” wrote the author, “have seen an emerging discourse on Chinese social media that combines the claims, vocabulary and style” of questionable figures in Western countries “with previous forms of nationalism and racism in Chinese cyberspace.”

In other words, pathological populism provokes a “hostility” toward people who are not Chinese. In the eyes of China’s ethnic purists, Chen’s “sin” of representing the United States—China’s biggest rival—is an unforgivable one.

Over the past two decades, the rapid development of online communication in China has resulted in the creation of dynamic digital spaces that have allowed “citizens to participate in public deliberations that are otherwise impossible,” noted Zhang.

Although “new media in China” has enabled the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “to develop sophisticated censorship and persuasion measures to strengthen authoritarian rule,” the very same platforms have also birthed a new type of consciousness, a hyper nationalistic consciousness.

With this type of thinking, it’s very much a zero-sum game. Either you happen to be someone like Gu, a hero in the eyes of millions of Chinese people, or you’re Chen, a “traitor,” a person who is clearly “too white” to be truly Chinese. Not that any of this should really bother him.

Chen is much more than a gifted athlete. He is an American hero, a young man who deserves great praise once he arrives back on American soil.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US, among others. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.