At the Winter Olympics, China badly sought to overthrow nationalism

BEIJING — The geopolitical rivalry of the United States and China at times threatens to boil and burn Winter Olympic Games. Now, Beijing seems to be trying to cool down.

In recent days, Chinese Internet users have pour out praise for skier Eileen Gu while barbarian figure skater Beverly Zhu, two US-born athletes competed for Team China, who became lightning rods for Team China. national sentiments.

After days of heated online debate, China is removing some of those comments and preventing others from further discussion, in what appears to be an attempt to rein in nationalist sentiments and express a happier, more hospitable face like Olympic host.


Beverly Zhu fell while competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics.


Zhang Yuwei / Zuma Press

Ms. Zhu, who gave up her US citizenship to compete for China, was initially mocked and blamed after falling twice and finishing last in a team event on Sunday. Online commentators questioned the motives of Ms. Zhu, also known in Chinese as Zhu Yi, and her legitimacy to represent China.

An upper Chinese hashtag


-As the Weibo platform mocking Ms. Zhu’s Olympic debut, #ZhuYiFellDown, which had been viewed more than 200 million times, suddenly became unsearchable, apparently late on Sunday.

Instead, criticism on Chinese social media against Ms. Zhu, a 19-year-old born in Westwood, California, has given way to extremely positive comments and encouragement. Some have attributed previous negatives directed at Ms. Zhu to US media outlets, who they say have been cyberbullying the skater.

“What people say online affects me,” Zhu said, as quoted by China’s state news agency Xinhua on Monday. “The problem now is psychological. I will try not to be influenced by the outside world.”


A billboard in Beijing shows skier Eileen Gu.


Christmas celis images / Agence France-Presse / Getty

On Thursday, an admin account of Weibo said the platform had so far removed more than 66,000 posts and suspended 3,700 accounts that were found to have attacked athletes.

Ms. Gu, who has become a magnet for controversies over nationalism in the US in recent days for her move to represent China, told reporters. “Mistakes and pressure are both part of sport,” she told reporters after her own gold-medal-winning performance on Tuesday, adding that she had watched Ms Zhu at practice and admire her very much.

Although China’s internet is generally well-manicured by the authorities, it can also be a boisterous place where loyalty to the country and to the individual stars is fiercely guarded.

On Thursday, it showed with an explosion of empathy and enthusiasm for Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan’s two-time gold medalist and figure skater. a favorite in China’s online world—And mocking Nathan Chen, Hanyu’s longtime Chinese-American rival, who win gold.

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It is not clear why China’s internet authorities intervened in Ms. Zhu’s case. But her personal story has raised a lot of points of contention for Chinese internet users.

For example, some commentators on China’s Internet suggest that there may have been some kind of autocracy in Zhu’s choice, noting that her father, a leading expert on artificial intelligence named Zhu Songchun, transferred to Beijing’s elite Peking University in 2020 from the University of California, Los Angeles.

While Ms. Zhu, unlike Miss Guhas been clear about giving up her US citizenship to join Team China, some on Chinese internet have alleged that Ms. Zhu won her Olympic spot from Chen Hongyi, a figure skater. Art was born in China.

After Ms. Zhu missed two jumps in the women’s short program team event, some social media users in China called her a disgrace and told her to “go back to America.” .

“Before I started, I guess I put a lot of pressure on because I know people in China are quite surprised by the selection of women and I really wanted to show them what I can do. But unfortunately I didn’t,” Ms. Zhu tearfully told reporters afterward.

However, after hours of incessant criticism, the position of the authorities seems to have changed, and with it, public opinion. Now, for example, many voices indicate that China appears to have flirted with Ms. Zhu before convincing her father to move to Beijing. Others reflect on the hate on display.

Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, one of China’s biggest nationalist voices online, condemned the attacks on Ms. Zhu. Mr. Hu wrote on Weibo on Sunday night: “Pull your emotions on this young athlete personally and use social media to hit someone when she is frustrated because she made a mistake, that is direct threatening behavior. online and in any case it went too far.”

By Monday, Ms. Gu cheerfully reported: “As someone who actually uses China’s social platforms, I’ll say right here that over 90% of the comments are positive and uplifting.”

Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information who studies China’s internet and censorship, suspects that authorities believe the attacks against Ms. comes from the idea that America and China is a sworn enemy, has gotten out of hand.

“A lot of those opinions are not organized by the government, but they are the product of long-standing government propaganda,” said Mr. Xiao, referring to what he described as a trend towards democracy. China’s growing ethnicity in recent years.

Florian Schneider, Director of the Leiden Asia Center in the Netherlands, said: “An important factor could be that anger of nationalism does not fit with the overall spirit of the Games and it is at risk. opportunity to make the host of the Olympics become less bright.

While Mr. Schneider did not see a clear reason for the state to interfere in the online debates surrounding Ms. Zhu, “the criticisms of Ms. Zhu touch on so many prominent issues in China that it is dangerous. opportunity to focus on broader discussions about systemic inequality in China,” he said.

Mr. Schneider said the strong reactions to Ms. Zhu’s fall earlier could not only reduce nationalist sentiment. Instead, they appear to reflect broader anxiety about economic opportunity in China.

“Whether such allegations are justified or not is very important,” he said. “For many people, they evoke a life experience in which upbringing, family background and personal relationships create unequal opportunities in a difficult economy.”

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