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Following the Elections in the West – Chinese Reactions on Wilders and “The Rise of the Right”

Weibo users are closely following the new political trends in the West, with a recent focus on populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

Manya Koetse

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With Trump as the new US president, and popularity of right-wing politicians rising in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, Weibo users are now following the new political trends in the West with a recent focus on populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders. While Chinese state media write about the dangers of the “rise of the right,” many Chinese netizens express their appreciation of Wilders.

On Weibo, the topic ‘following the elections in the West’ has recently become increasingly popular. “The American elections have ended, and Trump is now running the country via Twitter. The French and German elections are coming up next,” – an account named “Following The Elections in the West” (hashtag: #关注西方大选#) says.

Besides the elections in Germany and France, the Dutch elections are also a topic of discussion. Dutch politician Wilders, called Wéi’ěrdésī (维尔德斯 or 威尔德斯) in Chinese, has become a recurring subject in the Chinese media, that represent the results of the Dutch elections as the precursor for the other elections of Continental Europe.

Geert Wilders is the leader of the Dutch right-wing Freedom Party (PVV), which is expected to win many votes in the upcoming elections in the Netherlands. With his plans to “de-Islamize” the Netherlands and his anti-EU and anti-establishment stance, Wilders is winning over voters who feel alienated from the ruling political class.

 

ALL EYES ON EUROPE

“This Dutch man, who is crazier than Trump, wants to change Europe.”

 

“Why do we need to closely follow the Dutch elections?”, one Shanghai media source recently wrote on Weibo: “Because after the shock of the 2016 Trump election and Brexit, all eyes are now on Europe. And on the one hand we have Le Pen (勒庞), the leader of the right-wing National Front (FN), and on the other hand, we are now approaching the Dutch elections where we have the Dutch right-wing party of Wilders, who just might become the next prime minister.”

The heightened media attention for European politics with a current focus on the Netherlands and Wilders is noticeable in Chinese state media, with official media such as Global Times and Xinhua writing about it.

In late February, Chinese state tabloid Global Times featured a column about Wilders, which was also shared on Chinese social media platforms Weibo, Baidu forum, and on WeChat. It is titled: “This Dutch man, who is crazier than Trump, wants to change Europe” (这个比特朗普还要疯的荷兰人要让欧洲变天了).

“These days, the whole western world is focused on the Netherlands like never before,” the article starts: “Because within a month the big elections will take place and the potential big winner is an unusual political party that opposes practically everything that mainstream European thinking stands for.”

Photo (size adjusted) by David Sedlecký.

The article quotes Wilders in saying: “The Islam is not a religion – it is an ideology that has sprung from a backward culture. And this ideology might be scarier than Nazism, as the Koran is even more violent and more anti-semitic than Mein Kampf , and it needs to be shut out.”

 

STRONG ANTI-ISLAM STANCE

“If Wilders’ Freedom Party really wins the Dutch elections it will be a worse nightmare for the EU and Europe than Brexit was.”

 

The Global Times article argues that if Wilders’ Freedom Party really wins the Dutch elections, “it will be a worse nightmare for the EU and Europe than Brexit was.”

One of the reasons mentioned why it would be “nightmarish” for Wilders to win, is because of the Freedom Party’s strong anti-Islam stance and its proposals to shut down mosques and stop serving halal food in the canteens of Dutch schools.

The Global Times explains this by writing: “They think that Islam is the greatest threat to Western civilization. [They think that] If you let Islam take root in Western countries, then Europe will be Islamized decades later, and Western civilization will be completely destroyed.”

The article continues: “Of course, their stance has greatly angered followers of Islam all across Europe, but when these religious people fight back, they actually precisely do what the Freedom Party expects. Like in 2009, when Geert Wilders came to England for an interview and over 40 Islamic people went to the streets carrying banners that said that ‘Islam will dominate the world.'”

Tweet above: the image as used in the Global Times when mentioning the protest by Muslims outside Geert Wilders press conference in central London in October 2009.[/caption]

The article argues that Wilders “represents himself” as a “victim of Islamic violence” – as he cannot leave his house without bodyguards by his side – but that his provocative way of speaking has also led to him facing legal actions within the Netherlands. He was found guilty of inciting discrimination when he asked a roomful of Freedom Party supporters if they wanted to have “more or fewer Moroccans” in the country.

 

RISE OF THE RIGHT

“The Dutch Freedom Party is not alone, but is part of the rise of other far-right political parties across Europe: this is their year of patriotism.”

 

Besides his strong anti-Islam stance, another reason why the article says a win by Wilders would be disastrous to Europe, is because of his anti-EU position. This stance comes from the belief that the corrupt nature of the EU organizational structure and the incompetence of the ruling authorities in Brussels have led to the immigration crisis and the financial crisis in Europe.

The column points out that the Freedom Party has greatly gained in popularity in the Netherlands since its establishment in 2006. The Greek debt crisis, the refugee crisis, as well as last year’s Brexit and the election of Trump, have all contributed to its popularity.

The Global Times finally argues that the Dutch Freedom Party is not alone, but is part of the rise of other far-right political parties across Europe, such as the National Front in France. “This is their year of patriotism,” they write.

Embedded tweet: Geert Wilders, left, Frauke Petry, Harald Vilimsky, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini at a meeting in 2017.

“The current mainstream media are worried and anxious about the rise of the right-wing forces, but they can only pray that the Europeans won’t be as stupid as the Americans,” the column concludes, also adding: “We the Chinese people just want to say that whatever American, UK, or even French, German, Dutch, or Russian drama, etc., there is, let’s not make this a drama that includes China.”

 

THE WILDERS EFFECT

“It is relevant to note that the Netherlands can be regarded as the leader of European political trends.”

 

Besides Global Times, Chinese media outlets Xinhua News and Sina recently also wrote about Wilders. China’s Sina News published an article on March 1st titled “Is Holland the first domino stone to collapse on the European continent?” (荷兰 欧盟倒下的第一张多米诺), and Xinhua‘s article is titled “The Dutch elections are nearing, will populism win?” (荷兰大选在即,民粹主义会得势吗).

Sina News (March 1st): “Will Holland be the first domino stone falling on the European continent?”

Both articles suggest that parties such as the Freedom Party win support because of their anti-immigration and anti-EU tendencies, but that voters of Wilders do not necessarily want him to actually lead the country: “People may vote for Wilders as a protest vote,” they write.

They emphasize the role of the Netherlands on the European continent: “It is relevant to note that the Netherlands can be regarded as the leader of European political trends,” Sina News says, looking back at political trends in the 1960s and 1990s.

Xinhua also brings up the so-called ‘Wilders Effect’ (威尔德斯效应). The ‘Wilders Effect’, also mentioned by Tom-Jan Meeus on Politico.eu, implies that the harsher Wilders is criticized (e.g. by the mainstream media or ruling politicians), the better his chances of winning are.

Even if Wilders comes out as the big winner in the upcoming elections, the chances of him forming a governing coalition are slim as few other parties are willing to govern alongside Wilders after the elections. However, it is precisely the rejection of Wilders that testifies to his accusations that “the political elites disregard the will of the people.”

Although Chinese state media emphasize the dangers of Wilders’ popularity and “the rise of the right,” Chinese responses on Weibo and other social media platforms reveal that many netizens seemingly support the far-right Dutch politician.

 

CHINESE NETIZENS RESPOND

“Supporters of Islam need to reflect on why it is that all over the world in developed nations people like Trump are receiving the support of the people.”

 

On Weibo, one Chinese blogger recently wrote about Wilders: “The populist Geert Wilders promises (..) to make the Netherlands ‘great again.’ His ‘Freedom Party’ (自由党) might win more seats than ever before. He is often called the “Dutch Trump”, as he is just as opposed to muslim immigration as the new American president. He also has no trust in the media and loves to send out tweets.”

The post continues: “This ‘Dutch Trump’ wants no more acceptance of immigrants or refugees from muslim countries, as Holland is becoming ‘Islamized’, [he wants to] prohibit the wearing of Islamic headscarves in public places (..), to let the Koran classify as a banned book, a closure of mosques and Islamic schools, the Netherlands should get out of the EU, criminals with a dual citizenship have to be deported, income taxes have to be reduced, people should receive pension at 65 (..).”

In response to this post and the state media articles, many netizens write that they agree with Wilders’ ideas about Islam and that it can be viewed as an ideology, saying: “Isn’t he right about this?”

One Weibo user (@乡梦天地) writes: “Is Islam still a ‘religion’? Perhaps it has deteriorated and has become an ideology that serves a religion. In a normal country, religion is often used as a way to serve the ruling class. But now, it seems that the ruling class is serving religion instead.”

Other Chinese commenters say that “the religion of Islam is an obstruction to the development of society.”

“I have been to Holland and the streets are very ‘green'”, one person says (‘green’ being slang to refer to ‘islam’). “Europe has reached a crucial moment of life or death, turning right is a final opportunity to save themselves,” one commenter (@传捷天下) writes.

Embedded: Wilders cartoon (same image republished in Global Times).

“Supporters of Islam need to reflect on why it is that all over the world in developed nations people like Trump are receiving the support of the people,” another person responds.

Several netizens say: “There is nothing wrong (没毛病) with what [Wilders] says, it is the truth.”

One person even says: “It would be a blessing for the Netherlands if he were to be elected.”

People responding to the post on Weibo say they look forward to him winning the elections: “I support Wilders becoming the prime minister of Holland!”, one Guangdong-based English tutor writes.

 

WHAT’S THE FUSS?

“Europe is like a domino game. When one right-wing party comes up, others will follow. When one country leaves the EU, others will also leave the EU.”

 

But there are also netizens who worry about the rise in popularity of politicians such as Wilders: “Hasn’t the rise of populism already entered a point of no return?”

Like the Global Times column, they also see the rise of right-wing parties as a global trend rather than a European one (“全球右转是个趋势”). Some of them write that “the rise of the right” is a “dangerous trend.”

One France-based Weibo user (@欧洲行-私人订制) writes: “Europe is like a domino game. When one right-wing party comes up, others will follow. When one country leaves the EU, others will also leave the EU.”

But precisely this anti-EU stance is what many other netizens also appreciate in Wilders. When Wilders announced that a Dutch ‘Nexit’ referendum would follow after the Brexit, some Weibo commenters said: “Getting out of the EU might be the only way to save yourself,” although others said that organizing a referendum over such a crucial issue is “much too risky.”

There are also many commenters who do not understand what the fuss is all about: “Holland is such a small country,” a Baidu user writes. One Weibo commenter (@TOAac) also says: “So what, Holland? What will happen in Germany and France is what really matters.”

According to the latest polls, Geert Wilders has now fallen behind the conservative VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the first time since November 2016. But until the results come out of the Dutch elections of March 15, nothing is sure.

“In the end, this all is a choice that has to be made by the Dutch voters,” one Baidu netizen concludes.

– By Manya Koetse


Chinese (state) media about Wilders:

Global Times (环球时报). 2017. “这个比特朗普还要疯的荷兰人要让欧洲变天了 [This Dutch Man Crazier Than Trump Wants To Change Europe]” (In Chinese). Global Times, February 21 http://global.sina.cn/szzx/article/20170221/00bf33efd2851000.html [2.3.17].

Sina News (新浪). 2017. “荷兰 欧盟倒下的第一张多米诺 [Is Holland the first domino stone to collapse on the European continent?]” (In Chinese). Sina News, March 1 http://finance.sina.com.cn/stock/usstock/c/2017-03-01/doc-ifyavwcv9263847.shtml [2.3.17].

Xinhua (新华). 2017. “荷兰大选在即,民粹主义会得势吗? [The Dutch Elections Are Nearing, Will Populism Win Power?]” (In Chinese). Xinhuanet.com, February 16 http://news.xinhuanet.com/world/2017-02/16/c_129481542.htm [2.3.17].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.


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©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    cool

    March 2, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    no wonder many people Chinese came to support Wilders due to his anti-Islam stance because religion as whole is often taught hindrance to development in the Chinese state media and educational institutes. One most striking observance I noticed that no one among them thought about western role in middle east which brought extremist threats worldwide.

    • Avatar

      Joey

      March 5, 2017 at 8:42 am

      It’s more about Chinese netizens believing that a unicultural (or even uniracial) society as a prosperous one. They see multiculturalism as a sickness that has overtaken the West, and a component of its decline.

  2. Avatar

    Speakthetruth

    March 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Geert Wilders MUST win the election if Europe wishes to regain her sanity and her sovereignty she had lost from decades of neglect from past leaderships.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse

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This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

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China Celebs

Gu’s Year: How Eileen Gu Became a Beloved Icon and Controversial Role Model in China

Patriotic, privileged, perfect? A year after Eileen Gu became an online sensation in China, she is still generating discussions.

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Eileen Gu, the American-born freestyle skier and gold medallist who represented China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, has made headlines again for her excellent halfpipe World Cup performance during the Chinese New Year. One year after Gu first became an internet sensation, she is, once again, receiving praise and triggering discussions on Chinese social media.

This Chinese Lunar New Year, the three Chinese Winter Olympic athletes Wu Dajing, Xu Mengtao, and Gao Tingyu, were widely discussed on Chinese social media after their debut at the CGM Spring Festival Gala.

Over 8000 kilometers away, another Winter Olympic athlete, Eileen Gu – better known as Gu Ailing 谷爱凌 in China, – also garnered huge attention for her excellent performance at the Calgary halfpipe World Cup. Just as people were celebrating the Chinese New Year, Eileen Gu claimed her second gold medal at the FIS Freeski World Cup.

It has almost been a year since the then-18-year-old Chinese-American freestyle skier grabbed gold at the Olympics and became front-page news in China.

Although Gu already garnered attention online when she announced in June of 2019 that she would switch national affiliation and compete for China, it wasn’t until the Olympics that she appeared all over social media, was featured in dozens of ad campaigns, and practically became a household name in China.

Now, in light of the FIS Snowboard World Cup and the X Games in Aspen, Gu is back in the limelight.

On January 21st, the first day of the Year of the Rabbit, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV celebrated Gu’s victory on social media using the hashtag “Eileen Gu Claims Two Golds within Three Days during the New Year Celebrations” (#谷爱凌过年3天2金#), with a two- minute video clip recording the highlights of her recent race. The hashtag has since received over 180 million views.

Gu herself also shared her victory on Weibo and wished people a prosperous New Year. That post attracted over 110,000 likes.

Many Chinese people celebrated Gu’s new achievements with words of admiration, praising her capabilities and determination. One Weibo user commented: “I have to say, Gu Ailing is truly excellent. Three days, two medals. She has an indisputable talent.”

Another user posted a video of Gu practicing while waiting for her flight and commented: “A healthy, energetic, diligent, excellent Gu Ailing who even continues training while waiting for boarding. Success doesn’t come overnight.”

Others also view Gu as a national icon for her gold medal wins for China. The phrase “wèi guó zhēngguāng” (“为国争光”), “winning glory for the country,” appeared in many posts under the hashtag related to Gu’s win.

But over the past year, since Gu’s Olympic success, she has not always merely been viewed as a patriotic hero. Despite her popularity, Gu also triggered controversy and sometimes came under fire, with some wondering if she truly was patriotic and others blaming her for being privileged.

 

PATRIOTIC

Everybody knows Eileen Gu is Chinese

 

During the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the fact that Gu had switched her international allegiance and represented China instead of the US instilled pride among many Chinese. Chinese media flooded with stories on Gu that focused on the narrative of the multi-talented “mixed kid” who gave up her United States citizenship to represent the People’s Republic of China.

However, when being asked about her citizenship in interviews, Gu’s replies left many people wondering about the facts of the matter; they wanted to know whether or not Gu actually gave up her American passport, as China does not recognize dual nationality. Gu’s response “I’m American when in the US and Chinese when in China” triggered dissatisfaction among Chinese audiences.

“I have stopped liking her since she said that,” one Weibo user reflected in December 2022, and the post received 35,000 likes. To this day, there are many social media comments bringing up Gu’s comment: “You’re in America, so now you’re American, right?”

Others also attacked Gu after Forbes listed her as the third highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2022 (#谷爱凌年收入1.4亿#). Some commenters argued that she had earned her money in China and was spending it in the US, and that she was unpatriotic for doing so.

However, some netizens defended Gu by stressing what she had done for China. In Weibo posts and comment threads, users supporting Gu wrote: “She won two gold medals and more for China, what did your patriotism contribute to China?” Others also said Gu had shown her love for China through her performances, and that it would be impossible to expect her to distance herself from the country she grew up in.

Meanwhile, Western media outlets described how the bi-lingual Gu had been “dodging” explicit questions about her US citizenship status. This also led to Gu getting attacked by Americans. When Gu returned to the US and enrolled in Stanford University, there was even an online petition about getting Gu’s admittance to Stanford revoked due to Gu’s supposed “lack of integrity about her nationality” and indifference to “the human rights violations” in China.

Among Chinese netizens, questions also rose about whether Gu had only represented China during the Olympics and if her return to the US might mean that she would give up her Chinese nationality and play for the US team instead.

But with Gu’s debut at the FIS Freeski World Cup in the Year of the Rabbit, Chinese bloggers pointed out that Gu’s nationality was still listed as Chinese.

“No matter where she is, Gu Ailing still has the Chinese nationality,” one Weibo blogger wrote, with others also saying: “She is still representing China, we should all support her! The rumors about her changing nationalities are false!”

“Everybody knows Eileen Gu is Chinese,” another social media user wrote.

But not everybody is convinced: “Don’t fool yourself. I’m happy she helped China win gold, but dual citizenship is dual citizenship, there’s no point in covering it up.”

 

PRIVILEGED

Gu’s success is unrelated to normal people

 

Another discussion that has flared up during Eileen Gu’s past year of success is focused on her alleged privileged status, especially within the context of her being praised as a role model for Chinese (female) younger generations.

In February of 2022, an Instagram comment made by Gu regarding the use of VPNs in China caused some controversy. At the time, one person asked Gu about “internet freedom” in China and how it was possible for her to use Instagram while she was in China, where the platform is blocked. Gu then replied: “Anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store [thumbs up]”

A screenshot of the exchange then circulated on Weibo, where many netizens were surprised about Gu’s statement. VPNs are generally not available on app stores in mainland China, as there are numerous restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) which are commonly used to browse websites or apps that are otherwise blocked in China.

Gu was then criticized over the fact that she seemed unaware of the restrictions on VPNs along with her suggestion that ‘internet freedom’ only referred to the accessibility of foreign platforms, allegedly showing her privileged position.

After Gu enrolled in Stanford University and posted her all-A transcript of the first semester at the end of 2022, many praised her hard work but there was also criticism about her “showing off” and strategically choosing a supposedly easier curriculum.

“She posted it to impress Chinese people who do not understand the system,” one person commented, with others replying that an “S” grade does not equal full points and that she had no A+ grades. Others claimed that Gu probably received help with her schoolwork.

Gu’s Weibo post at the end of 2022 reviewing her achievement of the year, including her transcript of the first semester at Stanford University.

As online discussions intensified (#谷爱凌斯坦福所有课程全部满分#), Gu herself responded to online criticism, stressing that she – without anybody’s help – had worked hard for her grades and that only 5% of students can get an A at Stanford.

The idea that Gu comes from a very privileged background and that it is not just her diligence that brought her success is a recurring one on social media.

Gu was raised by her Chinese mother, a molecular biology graduate who studied at Peking University and Stanford University and who used to be a speed skating athlete as well as a part-time coach at Peking University. She allegedly worked at Wall Street and later became a CEO of a risk investment company. Her grandmother, a former official at China’s Ministry of Transport, was a university basketball player, while her grandfather was a soccer player at school who was also good at swimming, skiing, and skating. Her family members’ background is exceptional. University students were rare among Gu’s grandparents’ generation, and studying abroad was also uncommon for her mother’s generation.

As people believe that this family background has largely contributed to Gu’s success, Gu’s position as a “role model” is questioned.

“Gu’s success is unrelated to normal people,” one Weibo user wrote. “What is the meaning of having this kind of role model? I have no parents from the Ivy League, no pretty face of mixed race, no elite education from the mix of Chinese and American cultures, no exceptional family background, and even no talent,” one Zhihu user wrote.

“Gu started skiing at three years old, and practiced running, basketball, piano, and ballet soon after; I started playing in the mud at three years old and I can still only play in the mud,” another user wrote. “Gu’s mother meticulously planned Gu’s life, but my mother could hardly spare any time for me while she was working.”

 

PERFECT

Congratulations, Little Gu, you’re the greatest!

 

Amid all the online discussions surrounding Eileen Gu, there is the view that people have not necessarily grown tired of Gu herself but of the (online) media narratives surrounding her which present her as the perfect daughter, the perfect athlete, or the perfect role model.

Some people admit that they feel jealous or say that they feel it is unfair because they feel they could never reach that standard.

One article published by The Paper in 2022 reiterated the popular view that Gu’s success “has nothing to do with ordinary people” (“谷爱凌的成功与普通人没啥关系”), but argued that people should draw inspiration from her story rather than focusing on all the aspects of her life that are unattainable to them.

A commentary by PLA Daily also argued that Olympic athletes should not be turned into “gods” for their overnight success; neither should they be vilified because of their shortcomings. It’s not about the pursuit of perfection, the author wrote, but about facing up to one’s own shortcomings.

There are also those who remind others that Gu is still a teenager. Not only have some of the controversies over the past year shown that Gu is not “perfect,” they also showed that fame is a double-edged sword.

As one netizen put it: “Success can be magnified to an extreme, and mistakes can be enlarged without boundaries (..) She’ll be carefully walking on the sharp edge of the sword because if she does something that does not conform to what people expect of her, the same people who praise you today will step on you tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, many Chinese fans of Eileen Gu have had it with those leaving “sour comments.” “She is representing China, she snatched gold, your empty ‘patriotism’ is contributing nothing!”

“Congratulations, Little Gu, you’re the greatest!” some say: “You did a good job, and we’re proud of you.”

By Zilan Qian and Manya Koetse

 

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