Chinese- American Olympic Athletes Face Criticism From Both Home and Competing Countries

SKYLER GALLARZAN WRITES- As the 2022 Bejing Winter Olympics comes to a close we reflect on the celebration of cultures and athleticism coming from all parts of the world.  But with celebration, also comes criticism. 

Nearly three dozen athletes on China’s Olympic team are not Chinese citizens, a phenomenon that is no new subject within the Olympics. Many professional athletes switch their citizenship in order to compete with teams that have a higher likelihood of winning gold. But with the rise of the media and a new generation of Asian American athletes, they not only must face off with their Olympic competitors, but with backlash and slander from audiences. 

Zhu Yi, formerly known as Beverly Zhu, is a 19-year-old Los Angeles born figure skater who gave up her US citizenship in order to skate for China’s women’s ice-skating team. In her performances for the women’s singles short program as well as her free skate, she fell a total of three times. Chinese fans were ruthless with their comments on  her performance and questioned as well as ridiculed her representation as a Chinese athlete. 

The Chinese social media platform Weibo was the main source of criticism. The hashtag #ZhuYiFellDown trended on the site, with 230 million views accumulated in only a couple of hours. Other hashtags like #ZhuYiMistake, and #ShameOnZhuYi also trended on Weibo. “Zhu Yi, how ridiculous your performance is! How dare you skate for China?” said one user. “You cannot even hold a candle to an amateur!” Another commented on Reddit, “Is she really patriotic? How is one person’s dream bigger than the country? It’s ass backward.” It was both her inability to speak Mandarin fluently plus her “privileged” American upbringing that prompted the horrific comments. “Please let her learn Chinese first, before she talks about patriotism”another Weibo user exclaimed. 

It is no question that athletes representing China face high pressures from their home country, and in Zhu Yi’s case, she truly received horrific Chinese media scrutiny as an American competing for China. Yet other Chinese American athletes such as Eileen Gu have received immense praise from China for their accomplishments in the Olympics. Eileen Gu,  also known as Gu Ailing, hailing from San Francisco, claimed the same switch in citizenship as Yi, forfeiting  her American citizenship to compete on China’s ski team. 

The difference between the two is that Gu has gone on to be China’s golden girl, while she creates animosity within some American Olympic fans. The 18-year-old gold medalist has been dubbed China’s “Snow Princess” after medaling in her freestyle ski events like slopestyle and big air. As her popularity grows larger and larger in China, the American skiing community has questioned her loyalties to the country in which she grew up. 

“It’s ungrateful for her to turn her back on the country that not just raised her, but turned her into a world-class skier,”podcaster Tucker Carlson said on Fox News.  A Missouri lawmaker tweeted “I don’t get it. And never will. I think it is wrong for an American to compete for China. China represses free speech, is well known for their human rights violations. Did she abandon her US citizenship or not? (China does not have dual citizenship) ugh. #EileenGu”

While one athlete is almost deemed not Chinese enough in China, the other is praised for her victories yet deemed a traitor in American standards -which raises questions about the duality of being of Asian heritage while also maintaining Asian American identity.  Both of these Asian American athletes are held to high expectations in both China and America, and both seem to fail to satisfy the needs for their dual fanbases.  

Dual identity questions such as these are typically faced by Asian Americans caught between two national identities. Now these two athletes have brought even more attention to the issue in how ethnic identity is a challenge amongst so many Asian Americans, and even for other ethnic communities.