‘Go to hell’: China angered by Olympic win


“Little” Japan. “Traitor” Taiwan. Chinese nationalists are up in arms at missing out on Olympic gold to their neighbours.

In millennia past, the Olympics was a time of truce.

Modern participants pledge to build “a peaceful and better world through sport”. But the games have become a showcase for national pride – from the size of its fireworks to the choreography of its opening ceremonies.

It’s also been a magnet for fascism and nationalism – and great power competition.

And world rivalries rarely get put aside.

Now intense nationalism whipped up by the Chinese Communist Party is spilling over to the sporting field. And the heavy censorship behind Beijing’s Great Firewall is doing nothing to stop it.

State-controlled social media group Weibo – where references to Winnie the Pooh and emperors are banned – is surging with hashtags like #PrideOfTheYellowRace.

And when Taiwan beat China in the men’s doubles badminton at the weekend, its athletes had to endure accusations of treason and insurrection.

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Meanwhile, China’s “netizens” – spurred on by state media – also are accusing international judges of bias when their favourite athletes fail to win.

Gold medals are being “stolen”. Opponents are being mocked.

The tight tally-board doesn’t help.

China’s on top. But Japan isn’t far behind.

Which may be why the Olympic hosts are being singled out for criticism.

Split personality

“We can lose to anyone but Taiwanese and Hong Kongese independentists,” has become a popular refrain on Chinese social media.

It’s a self-defeating battle cry born of conflicting ideologies.

The Olympic Committee won’t even call Taiwan, Taiwan. Instead, it’s “Chinese Taipei”. And an Olympic anthem is played to mark a victory instead of their own. According to committee regulations set in 1981, any name or symbol suggesting Taiwan is an independent nation is prohibited.

Other disputed nations – such as Palestine – get their own flag and anthem. But this was the only compromise that would allow Taiwan to compete in the face of Beijing’s opposition.

So when, on Saturday, the Taiwanese badminton team defeated China and dedicated their gold medal to “Taiwan”, there was an outcry.

RELATED: What country is ROC at the Olympics?

It’s a self-defeating battle cry born of conflicting ideologies.

“‘Chinese Taipei’ on your shirts,” one angry but popular Weibo post reads.

And it’s not just Taiwan being singled out on state-controlled Chinese social media.

Hong Kong also gets its own Olympic team because of its convoluted colonial history.

Ultranationalist attacks have been aimed at the forcibly assimilated island for daring to compete against the mainland. And Beijing’s harsh “national security” crackdown on any sign of dissent on the once thriving open city has silenced any right of reply.

Might is right

There’s no love lost between Tokyo and Beijing over the 2020 Olympiad.

Animosity over Japan’s 1931 invasion of China and World War II has been encouraged by the Communist Party. And it’s doing nothing to rein it in as the games unfold.

Weibo and other Great Firewall social media have been boiling with militaristic references. Titles usually applied only to veterans who fought in the wars against Japan are being assigned to victorious competitors.

“Now, not only is the Olympic spirit absent, the anti-Japanese sentiment has been awakened,” the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quotes a popular Shanghai vlogger as proclaiming. Other high-profile Chinese bloggers have accused Tokyo of turning the Olympics into a “nationalistic” showcase.

But derogatory taunts of “little Japan” are echoing through Chinese social media after several upset wins over their reigning champions.

Particularly in table tennis mixed doubles, and men’s artistic gymnastics.

These sports require a keen eye from judges – and consistent rulings.

And that always makes them open to allegations of bias, corruption and incompetence.

China’s fervent supporters zeroed in on one Japanese table tennis player appearing to blow on the ball in contravention of Covid rules. One Japanese player wrote: “Got tons of DM from a country telling me to Go to hell!”.

Chinese nationalism trolls also swarmed 19-year-old gymnast Daiki Hashimoto after becoming the youngest ever winner of the men’s all-around gymnastics.

Among the insults, accusations and anger were photos of atomic bombs and the devastation wrought on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The more sporting inclined raged over the size of the points penalty applied for stepping outside the boundary after a landing from a vault.

But defeated Chinese contestant Xiao Ruoteng was gracious: “I hope everybody can continue to support Chinese athletes, support Chinese gymnastics, support Xiao Ruoteng, yes, me! But I hope everyone can avoid going overboard with attacking the athletes themselves,” he posted on his social profile.

Climbing Olympus

China’s Communist Party-controlled Global Times has rejected accusations Beijing is encouraging hostile behaviour.

“Portraying China as a nationalistic country is also intended to lay the groundwork for blaming China for more heated divergence and even conflicts between Washington and Beijing in the future,” one editorial states.

“If we take a look around the world, we’ll find it is precisely the US that has a strong nationalist complex and extreme nationalism.”

It accuses US media of encouraging other nations to “belittle” China through the “extreme and politicised description of China’s sports practices”.

But the hatred being displayed off-field has Japan and the Olympic Committee on the defensive.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato has called for calm. “We, as the government, believe any discrimination should not be allowed,” he said. “It is also against the Tokyo Olympics’ spirits. We ask everyone to let the athletes to concentrate on their matches so they can do their best.”

Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesperson Mark Adams told a news conference that it wasn’t the committee’s job to advise athletes individually. But he added that abuse – be it on social media or elsewhere – had “no place in sport”.

“Such trolling … or aggression is really, really not acceptable, and we would completely go against that and support the athletes in every way,” he said.

Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel

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