Olympic Failure and the Cost of Representing China

Commentary In the immortal words of Swedish pop group ABBA, “the winner takes it all.” The loser, however, “has to fall.” In China, as we will see, any “loser” unlucky enough to fall is mercilessly ridiculed. Instead of being offered assistance, support, and a helping hand, they are bullied and chastised, mocked, and maligned. This, I argue, tells us a lot about the country’s psyche, and why communist China has a bad international reputation. On Feb. 8, fans across China heaped praise on Eileen Gu, the freestyle skater who won her first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. In fact, the praise was so effusive that Weibo, the country’s leading social media platform, temporarily crashed and 90,000 comments in the space of 30 minutes explains why. Gu, a teenager who was born in San Francisco, has an American father and a Chinese mother. In 2019, she decided to represent China. Her decision, it seems, has served her well. Within an hour of her victory, the hashtag “Gu Ailing won the gold medal” had received more than 300 million views. Across China, Gu is a hero. Eileen Gu, of China, competes during the women’s freestyle skiing big air finals of the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, on Feb. 8, 2022. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo) However, Zhu Yi, another American-born athlete who also pledged her allegiance to China, is anything but. Two days before Gu won gold, Zhu, a figure skater, was competing in the team competition. The 19 year old, who was born and raised in the United States, had a horrendous outing, falling twice and leaving the ice in tears. One wonders if Zhu, who gave up her American citizenship to compete for China back in 2018, regrets her decision. Shortly after her unfortunate display, social media users on Weibo attacked her, questioning both her selection and her ability as a skater. According to a Fox News report, “the hashtag #ZhuYiFellOver had over 230 million views by Sunday [Feb. 6] afternoon before being removed from the website. A second tag, #ZhuYiMessedUp, remained on the site with just around 80 million views at the time.” What explains the hatred, the nastiness, the casual cruelness? It’s possible that heightened levels of nationalism played a role in the vitriol directed toward Zhu. Moreover, unlike the United States, which prizes individualism over collectivism, China is a place where individualism is punished. If in doubt, just ask Jack Ma, a man who had the temerity to express an honest opinion. Collectivist cultures emphasize the importance of fitting in, harmony, and interdependence. In such cultures, a person’s identity is closely tied to the idea of pleasing the crowd. The fall of one citizen, be it a literal one, like Zhu’s, or a figurative one, like Ma’s, represents the fall of the country. In collectivist cultures, saving face is key. To bring shame on a family, a community, a country is unforgivable. Failure to recognize this fact will cost you. China’s Zhu Yi reacts after competing in the women’s single skating free skating of the figure skating team event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, on Feb. 7, 2022. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images) On a different day, under different circumstances, Zhu could have stormed to victory, and Gu could have fallen. Both of these young women are supreme athletes. Both of them turned their backs on the United States to represent China. But only one of them is being praised. In China, as we can see, loyalty is not always rewarded. In fact, it rarely is. One must do something truly amazing, like win a gold medal at the Olympics, to receive praise. However, one must only step out of line for a brief second to be punished, swiftly and severely. This is the cost of representing China. Endemic Indifference The sheer malice shown toward Zhu appears to be symptomatic of a broader trend. In October 2011, a two-year-old Chinese girl by the name of Wang Yue was run over by two separate vehicles on a road in Foshan, Guangdong Province. As the toddler lay bleeding on the road, crying out for more than seven minutes, at least 18 different drivers maneuvered around her body, opting to ignore rather than to help her. Eventually, a person had the decency to stop and take the little girl to the hospital for treatment. Sadly, a week after the horrendous affair, Wang succumbed to her injuries and died. Again, what could explain such cruelty? How could close to 20 different drivers ignore a little girl, clearly injured, sprawled out in the middle of a road? At the time, some commentators believed the incident reflected a moral decline in contemporary Chinese society. But I argue, Wang’s situation was, and still is, indicative of something more concerning. Having lived in the country myself, and having witnessed the casual cruelty shown toward everyday citizens, from young children to those in their twilight years, I say this with a high degree of certainty—which is odd, especially in

Olympic Failure and the Cost of Representing China

Commentary

In the immortal words of Swedish pop group ABBA, “the winner takes it all.” The loser, however, “has to fall.” In China, as we will see, any “loser” unlucky enough to fall is mercilessly ridiculed.

Instead of being offered assistance, support, and a helping hand, they are bullied and chastised, mocked, and maligned. This, I argue, tells us a lot about the country’s psyche, and why communist China has a bad international reputation.

On Feb. 8, fans across China heaped praise on Eileen Gu, the freestyle skater who won her first gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. In fact, the praise was so effusive that Weibo, the country’s leading social media platform, temporarily crashed and 90,000 comments in the space of 30 minutes explains why.

Gu, a teenager who was born in San Francisco, has an American father and a Chinese mother. In 2019, she decided to represent China. Her decision, it seems, has served her well. Within an hour of her victory, the hashtag “Gu Ailing won the gold medal” had received more than 300 million views. Across China, Gu is a hero.

Epoch Times Photo
Eileen Gu, of China, competes during the women’s freestyle skiing big air finals of the 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, on Feb. 8, 2022. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

However, Zhu Yi, another American-born athlete who also pledged her allegiance to China, is anything but. Two days before Gu won gold, Zhu, a figure skater, was competing in the team competition. The 19 year old, who was born and raised in the United States, had a horrendous outing, falling twice and leaving the ice in tears.

One wonders if Zhu, who gave up her American citizenship to compete for China back in 2018, regrets her decision. Shortly after her unfortunate display, social media users on Weibo attacked her, questioning both her selection and her ability as a skater.

According to a Fox News report, “the hashtag #ZhuYiFellOver had over 230 million views by Sunday [Feb. 6] afternoon before being removed from the website. A second tag, #ZhuYiMessedUp, remained on the site with just around 80 million views at the time.”

What explains the hatred, the nastiness, the casual cruelness? It’s possible that heightened levels of nationalism played a role in the vitriol directed toward Zhu. Moreover, unlike the United States, which prizes individualism over collectivism, China is a place where individualism is punished. If in doubt, just ask Jack Ma, a man who had the temerity to express an honest opinion.

Collectivist cultures emphasize the importance of fitting in, harmony, and interdependence. In such cultures, a person’s identity is closely tied to the idea of pleasing the crowd. The fall of one citizen, be it a literal one, like Zhu’s, or a figurative one, like Ma’s, represents the fall of the country. In collectivist cultures, saving face is key. To bring shame on a family, a community, a country is unforgivable. Failure to recognize this fact will cost you.

Epoch Times Photo
China’s Zhu Yi reacts after competing in the women’s single skating free skating of the figure skating team event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, on Feb. 7, 2022. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)

On a different day, under different circumstances, Zhu could have stormed to victory, and Gu could have fallen. Both of these young women are supreme athletes. Both of them turned their backs on the United States to represent China. But only one of them is being praised.

In China, as we can see, loyalty is not always rewarded. In fact, it rarely is. One must do something truly amazing, like win a gold medal at the Olympics, to receive praise. However, one must only step out of line for a brief second to be punished, swiftly and severely. This is the cost of representing China.

Endemic Indifference

The sheer malice shown toward Zhu appears to be symptomatic of a broader trend. In October 2011, a two-year-old Chinese girl by the name of Wang Yue was run over by two separate vehicles on a road in Foshan, Guangdong Province. As the toddler lay bleeding on the road, crying out for more than seven minutes, at least 18 different drivers maneuvered around her body, opting to ignore rather than to help her. Eventually, a person had the decency to stop and take the little girl to the hospital for treatment. Sadly, a week after the horrendous affair, Wang succumbed to her injuries and died. Again, what could explain such cruelty? How could close to 20 different drivers ignore a little girl, clearly injured, sprawled out in the middle of a road?

At the time, some commentators believed the incident reflected a moral decline in contemporary Chinese society. But I argue, Wang’s situation was, and still is, indicative of something more concerning. Having lived in the country myself, and having witnessed the casual cruelty shown toward everyday citizens, from young children to those in their twilight years, I say this with a high degree of certainty—which is odd, especially in a collectivist culture. However, the maintenance of group harmony does not always require empathy. Sometimes, threats and coercion, rather than actual support and understanding, are enough.

In a country where a tyrannical regime reigns supreme, human dignity is in short supply. The country is, after all, run by a pack of brutal bullies, and these bullies influence every single aspect of Chinese culture. Now, many of the Chinese people—for example, the bullied—are mirroring the actions of those in Beijing. They have become bullies, devoid of compassion and understanding.

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


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