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On Zhou Yang And Who To Thank

The whole who-to-thank saga revolving Olympic gold-medalist skater Zhou Yang and her family went a little crazy last friday, as Zhou’s mother found herself besieged by questions beyond any stretch of her imagination. From Youku Buzz:

In this candid record provided by one Youku Paike, Zhou’s mother was surrounded by media reporters, pushing for explanations on why her daughter only thought about parents but not THE country. (Youku Paike’s camera was fixed on Zhou’s parents, and only recorded surrounding reporters’ voices.)

The severely hurt mother was defending her daughter with all her power – by simply telling the truth. She said, “(When Zhou started training, all we as parents wanted was for her) to have a skill to find a job in the future, to support herself.” “I never dare to think of this day (when she became an Olympic gold medal winner)!

Pressed by one particular brainwashed female reporter, Zhou’s mother retorted back: “This really hurts us. How can they think this way?” She repeated her astonishment: “I really can’t understand why you think this way.” Simple, direct and powerful from a mother defending her beloved daughter.

The mother said she would never ever “gamble” her daughter for her own good. As disclosed, Zhou tries hard to help her parents, but the mother had no intention to use a single penny that her daughter earned – with tears and blood in my opinion. “Don’t you have a child yourselves? …It’s out of her love… I don’t want to use one single penny…” the mother cried bitterly.

A little recap:

Zhou won gold in the 1,500-meter race and the 3,000-meter relay in her Olympic debut. After her 1,500 win Feb. 20, a breathless Zhou told China Central Television: “It’s my dream. After winning the gold I might change a lot, become more confident and help my parents have a better life.”

She thanked her coach and teammates, but never mentioned the state-run sports system in which she had trained as an athlete for much of her life.

It’s right to respect and thank your parents but you also have to have the country in your heart. The country must come first. Don’t just talk about your parents,” said Yu Zaiqing, deputy director of China’s General Administration of Sport, in widely reported comments earlier this week.

Yu Zaiqing’s talk is understandable if put in context. Born in 1951, Yu was educated and has been working in the Communist China that favors collectivism to an extreme. And these days, sports happen to be one of a few sectors left where collectivist education and ideology still permeates in the People’s Republic.

I was born in the early 80s. Since the elementary school, the picture of an athlete shedding tears while the Five-stars-red Flag raising slowly with China’s national anthem playing has been imprinted in my brain. It’s a cult-like situation for Chinese athletes, patriotic or nationalistic as you may describe. I would expect them to thank the country anyway, and I think most of my fellow compatriots can relate to this feeling.

I mean, it could be like “I’d like to thank my parents, my leaders in the sports bureau and the country’s great sports system. But that sounds a bit unnatural to be honest. It’s not in the tradition. The traditional sequence would be “the party, the country, the people.”

So in most cases these days in my observation, athletes would rather thank their supporters, which I presume is done in part to avoid the crap. I didn’t really pay attention, and wonder what Wang Bingyu said after they crowned World Women’s Curling Championship last year, considering they didn’t really have any supporters back then.

Unlike Yu Zaiqing, Zhou Yang was born in 1991, and pretty much avoided the collective China and hasn’t trained in the taxpayer-funded sports system for very long. True, we still have “red songs” and “red SMS messages“, but most young Chinese couldn’t care less about them or even enjoy making fun of them.

I think Yu, being a sports official and a party boss, to some extent believes in what he said, and the idea of thanking the country first is not entirely posturing to him. There’s something that people like Yu wants to save and protect.

Take Luo Chaoyi, director of Gymnastics Administrative Center under China’s National Sports Bureau. In a recent interview with China Youth Daily, Luo said the age of Dong Fangxiao is her personal matter and the fact that Dong’s age had been shifted 3 years younger after her retirement was Dong and her family’s own practice.

According to the International Gymnastics Federation’s findings, Dong registered a birth date of January 20, 1983 at Sydney but when accredited to act as “secretary” at vault at the 2008 Beijing Games, had declared her birth date as January 23, 1986.

To put it simple, Luo told a blatant lie. But he did so trying not to jeopardize the National Gymnastic Association and, probably only to the likes of him, the country’s image.

What Yu and Luo said can tell you how unusual and unsophisticated these Chinese sports officials are, to say the least. And in the case of Yu, how stupid the Political Consultative Conference can be.

The golden rule for them: say nothing. But we can expect more of these in the future.

Links and Sources:

  • Danwei: Lesson learned, Zhou Yang thanks the country first
  • Youku Buzz: Don’t Politicalize the Unnecessary Controversy
  • AP: Skater’s gaffe highlights politics of China sports
  • South China Morning Post: Skater’s gold tarnished by petty posturing (subscription req’ed)
  • WSJ China Real Time: Thanks to Mom or the Motherland?
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