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After leading Team USA to a silver medal in the team figure skating competition and winning his first Olympic gold in the men’s individual event, Nathan Chen has been slammed on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The 22-year-old Chinese American was labeled a “traitor” on the social media platform for choosing to represent the United States, and was even told to “get out of China.” After his victory Thursday, some on Weibo complained that Chen was “too white” and Americanized, citing a long list of examples where they thought Chen was “insulting China” with his actions.
Chen has previously refused to speak Chinese in interviews, claiming that his Mandarin “isn’t very good.”
The Yale student put his support behind American ice dancer Evan Bates’ condemnation of China’s human rights abuses in an October interview. At the time, Bates came down hard on China’s “awful” treatment of the Uyghur people. The US did not send any diplomats to the Winter Olympics in Beijing because of the host country’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities.”
According to Reuters, Bates said, “We’re human beings, too, and when we read and hear about the things that are happening there, we absolutely hate that. We hate what’s going on there,” during a US Olympic and Paralympic Committee event.
“I agree with what Evan was saying,” Chen added. “I think that for a greater change to occur, there must be power that is beyond the Olympics.”
Pushback against Chen began during his first Olympics in 2018 when he performed one of his routines to a song from the movie “Mao’s Last Dance,” which is a retelling of a Chinese dancer’s defection to the United States during the 1980s. Chen claims he had no knowledge of the film before performing to the song.
“Maybe naively, I didn’t understand the whole system, the whole story behind it, just that the music was very beautiful,” he said Friday, adding that the song was chosen by his choreographer.
Chen has not responded to any of the vitriol toward him and has only said that he is proud of being Chinese American. He said it hasn’t been difficult to avoid the online barrage because he doesn’t have access to the platforms in China.
“I don’t have social media here. So I probably have been very sheltered from that. And I don’t plan on looking at social since sometimes social (media) can be a little toxic,” he said.
He has also discussed the importance of Beijing, the place where his parents first met.
“It means the world to be able to be here. My mom grew up in Beijing … And of course, my dad spent a lot of time in Beijing as well.”
Chen has been compared to fellow US-born athletes Eileen Gu and Zhu Yi, both of whom are competing for China at the Winter Games. Gu, a freestyle skier, won gold in women’s big air, and was lauded as a Chinese national hero. The 18-year-old, who plans to attend Stanford next year, has been labeled “Miss Perfect” on Weibo for her skiing skills, modeling career and perfect Mandarin.
In the past week, Gu has defended China’s internet censorship, which was promptly criticized on Twitter and Instagram by those who thought her response was out of touch with the actual experiences of those living in China.
In the team figure skating event, Zhu faltered and fell twice, dropping China from third to fifth place. The hashtag “Zhu Yi has fallen” trended on Weibo after her stumble. Users told the 19-year-old to “go back to America” and said she brought “shame” to China. Zhu, whose family relocated from California to Beijing, has been widely criticized for her lack of fluency in Mandarin and for being what is deemed “too American.”
Zhu renounced her US citizenship to represent China, and while it is unknown whether Gu did the same, it is traditionally a requirement to compete for China.