Editor’s note: A version of this post appeared in Fintech Zoom’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
The Olympics has long been an occasion for celebrating national pride. And for an increasingly confident China, the Tokyo Games is seen as the latest opportunity to showcase its national strength, as it looks to challenge the United States for top spot on the medal table.
So far, Team China has got off to a strong start, to the cheers of millions of fans online.
On Saturday, Chinese social media exploded in euphoria when shooter Yang Qian won the first gold of the Tokyo Games in the women’s 10-meter air rifle. The 21-year-old also set a new Olympic record with a 251.8 final score.
As of Monday morning in Japan, China has bagged six gold medals — three in weightlifting, one in fencing and one in diving in addition to Yang’s air rifle gold. That’s enough to top the medal table, followed by Japan and the United States.
Nationalist sentiment: On Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter, the Tokyo Games has been among the top trending topics since Friday evening. While many are rightfully proud of the Chinese team’s achievements, the nationalist sentiment has at times been more aggressive.
“Let the ‘March of the Volunteers’ blast forth in little Japan!” read the top comment under a post from Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily announcing Yang’s win, employing a common derogatory term for the Japanese (“March of the Volunteers” is China’s national anthem).
The comment sections of top state media outlets like the People’s Daily are among the most strictly censored corners of Weibo. The fact that the comment was allowed to receive nearly half a million “likes” and occupy top spot suggests at least official tolerance, if not encouragement of such rhetoric.
In other cases, the nationalist sentiment has gone too far even for Chinese censors. On Saturday, Yang was briefly attacked by some online nationalists and told to “get out of China” for having previously shown off her impressive collection of Nike sneakers on Weibo.
Nike, along with H&M and other big Western apparel brands faced calls for boycott in China in March, owing to their stand against the alleged use of forced labor to produce cotton in Xinjiang.