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Chinese American athletes straddle growing geopolitical rift at Olympic Games

by CAPA JRC reporter Evelyn Shue

In the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, Asian American athlete representation continued to soar. Of Chinese Americans present at the Winter Games, the reception each received from the media and public in both the United States and China were radically different.

Olympic men’s figure skating gold medalist Nathan Chen received heavy media coverage at home in the US, but he had only some level of support in China. With limited proficiency in Mandarin and skating a program complete with rap and hip-hop dancing, his “American-ness” made it hard for a Chinese audience to resonate with him. In fact, many have called him a “traitor” to China for commenting on Uyghur concentration camps.

18-year-old freestyle skier Eileen Gu, raised in the United States but representing China, became a national hero in China. Arguably the most beloved athlete in China at the moment, the “snow princess” was born in California to a white father and Chinese mother. Aside from boasting an impressive academic and athletic record, her fluent Mandarin (along with a Beijing accent) and open embrace of her Chinese identity and Chinese culture have won the hearts of the Chinese public and media. Reactions to her in the United States, however, have been mixed. Many have questioned her citizenship and pointed out privileges afforded to her by the Chinese government that Chinese citizens do not have. Like Nathan Chen, but for different reasons, she has also been dubbed a “traitor” for not representing the country she grew up in.

The recent controversy represents a divisive mindset caused by the growing geopolitical rift between China and the United States. One one hand, the Chinese public and media’s coverage of Chinese American athletes all hinge on whether or not they bring pride to China. While Eileen Gu was showered with praise, Nathan Chen received lukewarm reception at best. On the other hand, many in the United States criticize Eileen Gu for issues relating to identity, ethics, and politics while lauding Nathan Chen and other Asian American athletes like Chloe Kim as proudly and unabashedly American.

These dynamics, however, reflect an age-old problem plaguing Asian Americans. They are invariably seen through a racialized lens in the US, but also scrutinized for levels of loyalty in countries of origin. Such expectations should not be placed on individuals at all, as nobody should be obligated to prove the authenticity of their identities.

This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 25 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.

Instagram: @capa_jrc

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