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Eileen Gu and racist western coverage of China

picture of china on a glowing globe

Roar writer on Eileen Gu and racism against East Asians.

I was ready to ignore the Winter Olympics 2022 just like every other Olympics event until Eileen Gu took over the headlines. What caught my attention specifically was the racism in the coverage of her story. 

Gu was born in the US to a Chinese mother and American father and represents China in the Winter Olympics. She explained in an Instagram caption back in 2019 very clearly why she made this decision. She wants to inspire millions of young people in China and cherishes her heritage and relationship with her mother.  Despite this, her comment section is filled with people calling her a traitor, a sell-out, and telling her to “stay in China because we [Americans] don’t want you here anyway.”

And it goes beyond petty racist people in her comment section. Trevor Noah from the Daily Show was mocking her decision, and reporters Tucker Carlson and Will Cain on Fox News repeated the “traitor” and “betrayal” ideas. And now, an unnecessarily cryptic headline by Reuters: “Eileen Gu’s China choice pays off… for now.“ 

I feel as if I shouldn’t be surprised. The United States has been throwing around anti-China propaganda for a century. Every major headline follows a similar pattern; “China (does a thing), but at what cost?” Unsurprisingly, it’s all absorbed by racists who will now lash out at anyone who supports China.

In my opinion, Western representation of China is very different to what it actually is. It presents a monolithic story of a very diverse country. The coverage consists of mysteries and sinister conclusions that depend on the fear the audience already has of China. Even something like China enforcing effective lockdowns for Covid is spun as “draconian” when it’s been effective in many other regions.

The Western Perception of China

This instance is one of so many that exposes how deep East Asian hate runs in the West. Take a look at this Twitter thread posted in March 2021 containing headlines about China by Western news sources. It’s a bit difficult to believe that the media portrayal of China has nothing to do with hate crimes and racism against East Asians. 

People still believe China is an uncivilised backward society; unable to think for themselves because “China banned free-thinking” and “all they know is CPC propaganda.” People in China are thought of as trapped, people choosing China are thought of as traitors and sell-outs. 

Eileen Gu has said that her decision wasn’t political. If she won gold medals for the US, it wouldn’t have as big of an impact on who she wants to inspire. However, everything regarding China is seen as political. Presidents of the United States have all spoken about competing and losing to China; Gu as a young Asian-American teen is seen as an extension of this. People are already frustrated and developing conspiracies. Was she bribed by the CPC? How much are they paying her? 

Part of the racist Western coverage of China is making people fear its size. It’s growing economically and also in population. Western reporting of China ties in the Chinese government with the incredibly diverse population and presents them as one scary thing. It seems unbelievable that people would want to choose China without being paid or threatened in some way.

Improving Coverage of China

While there are definitely things to criticise China about, I believe there is an extremely racist narrative created by Western media of China being some “dystopian” society that needs to be saved by the US. 

We can’t stop criticising China, that wouldn’t help anyone. But what we can do is change how we talk about it. Hatred for China now seems automatic and very normal, and this is extended to hatred of East Asians in the form of hate crimes, which is a big problem. China is seen as something uniquely bad when a lot of what it’s accused of is true of the West.

We accuse Chinese media of being untrustworthy because it’s controlled by the Chinese government; the same is true of Western media outlets. We think we’re smarter and immune and won’t turn out as racist as the billionaires that own the media want us to be. That is clearly untrue.

By painting China as being bad all the time, it’s implied that the West is good all the time. It’s so easy to ignore the history of where we live and what these governments have done and continue to do when the media here keeps shifting focus all the time. Does someone getting American or British citizenship later in their life mean they support the wars, coups and empires? All the starving, stealing and enslaving?

I’m not trying to distract from China, I just want reporting to be grounded in reality. The way media covers China isn’t meant to inform, it’s meant to scare. I hope that we can see those stories for what they are; fearmongering. I hope we can look past this to tackle issues with respect and seriousness, not with a “they’re uncivilised and we need to fix them” mindset.

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