Two women have dominated Chinese social media during the Beijing Winter Olympics.
One is Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old skier born and raised in California who won a gold medal for China. The other is a mother of eight who was found chained around her neck to the wall of a doorless shack.
The Chinese internet is exploding with discussions about which of the two represents the real China. Many people are angry that the government-controlled algorithms glorify Ms. Gu, who fits into the narrative of the powerful and prosperous China, while censoring the chained woman, whose deplorable conditions defy that narrative.
The two women’s starkly different circumstances — celebrated vs. silenced — reflect the reality that to the Chinese state, everyone is a tool that serves a purpose until it does not.
Whether she wants it, Ms. Gu has become a powerful propaganda tool for Beijing to demonstrate its appeal to global talent and the benefits of being loyal to China. She represents the successful China that Beijing would like the world to admire.
“Does Eileen Gu’s success have anything to do with ordinary Chinese?” goes the headline of one viral article that was censored later.
“Can we remember these women while cheering for Eileen Gu?” asks another headline.
“To judge whether a society is civilized or not, we should not look at how successful the privileged are but how miserable the disadvantaged are,” the article said. “Ten thousand sports champions can’t wash away the humiliation of one enslaved woman, not to mention tens of thousands of them.”
The Chinese government doesn’t like where the debate is heading. The juxtaposition of the two women highlights that underneath the glamorous surface of one of the world’s largest economies lie jarring poverty and widespread abuse of women’s rights.
It defeats the purpose of recruiting star athletes like Ms. Gu: to showcase a powerful China with global appeal.
little pinks, posted a quote from a famous Chinese novel: “I love the country. But does the country love me?”
The story of the chained woman — whose name, according to the government, is Xiaohuamei (little flower plum) — has captivated the Chinese internet since a short video went viral in late January. In it, a middle-age woman with a dazed expression stood in the dark shack with a chain on her neck. Subsequent videos revealed that she had lost most of her teeth and seemed to be mentally disturbed.