Home Global Eileen Gu angers Chinese fans with ‘unpatriotic’ farewell message and video showing her flying private

Eileen Gu angers Chinese fans with ‘unpatriotic’ farewell message and video showing her flying private

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Eileen Gu angers Chinese fans with ‘unpatriotic’ farewell message and video showing her flying private

You may have thought you’d heard the end of Eileen Gu’s citizenship controversy when the 2022 Winter Olympics concluded in February, but it’s not over. The latest chapter in the controversy surrounding Gu’s nationality and loyalty began last week when the 18-year-old American-born athlete broke the news to her 6.7 million fans on Weibo that she was leaving China, where she is known by her Chinese name Gu Ailing Gu Ai Ling and has been belovedly nicknamed “Snow Princess.”

“Thank you China,” she wrote on April 27 in a Weibo post, which includes a Chinese flag, a heart emoji, and a collage of photos from her months-long stay in the country. Around the same time, Gu also posted on Instagram, saying: “Thank you China for the unforgettable few months & for the endless love.”

Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Gu switched national affiliations in 2019 to represent China in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Gu delayed her Stanford University admission for one year to be able to participate in the Games. Gu said that she had always planned to return to America for school, as stated by Gu in several interviews at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, role model for China or opportunist?

Nonetheless, Gu’s farewell post triggered swift and strong reactions from Chinese internet users. Within hours her Weibo posting drew thousands of reactions, prompting the rapid growth of “Gu Ailing” posts on Weibo thanking China. As of today, her message has 431,000 likes and 77,000 comments.

While Gu received a lot of appreciation from her supporters for being an example for young Chinese women and for her participation in Beijing Games, some also expressed their gratitude for her post. However, it set off a storm of criticisms that included a range of disappointments to outright anger. Some of Gu’s staunchest fans became her harshest critics.

Many people were critical of Gu’s goodbye message. They felt that Gu sounded foreign and kept an emotional distance with Chinese people. Some people pointed out the language as proof and asked why Gu did not refer to China her “motherland” as she does with other Chinese athletes. “It’s obvious that China is just a travel destination to her,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

The criticism continued, with many calling Gu an “opportunist”, who exploited China’s huge market potential to propel her career as a skier and make a lot of money. Others came out in Gu’s defence and called her critics unfair for setting unrealistic expectations of the ski prodigy. They said she was just an unwilling young lady caught between two countries, forced to pick one side by many.

“Gu won Olympic medals in China. Was that what you did? Bashing her on the internet?” a Weibo user slapped back at one of Gu’s critics (in Chinese). She said, “Even though she was competing for China for money. I’d be completely cool with that.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if China could attract all the talents in the U.S. with strong financial prospects?” another person wrote (in Chinese).

Weibo began limiting discussions regarding Gu’s farewell post on Thursday night. Gu continued sharing posts about her return to the U.S. in spite of this controversy. One of these videos was even more of a fuel for the flames.

The clip was filmed by Gu, and uploaded to Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, over the weekend. It shows her grandmother running in what appears like a private aircraft. “My grandma is jogging at 900 mph,” the caption reads. Gu responded to the clip hours later in the comments. She said, “Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!” Her exact location was displayed on Douyin: U.S

Blasted on both sides of the Pacific

Since Gu announced that she would compete for her mother’s country of birth, China, back in 2019, the skier has been bombarded with queries about her loyalties.

Even during Beijing Games coverage, Gu’s talents as a skier were frequently overshadowed in the media and discussions online outside China. On the FoX News show “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Fox pundit Will Cain called Gu “ungrateful” for “betraying the country that not just raised her, but turned her into a world-class skier.” On Change.org, almost 8,000 people signed a petition in a bid to get Gu’s Stanford admittance revoked. Gu’s lack of integrity regarding her nationality and failure to denounce China’s human rights violations were the key arguments in the description.

While in China, Gu was subject to a full-throated publicity campaign. It painted Gu as the face of China’s new international image and an icon of women’s empowerment. Gu was elevated to superstar status after winning three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. This led to a torrent of praise for Gu, which caused temporary overload on Weibo.

The newfound fame also translated into a financial windfall for Gu, as media reports revealed that she brought in 200 million yuan ($31 million) in 2021, mostly fueled by endorsement deals with two dozen brands including global luxury houses Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., and Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen.

Gu is proud to represent China and has spoken out about it often. However, questions regarding whether Gu had given up her U.S. citizenship for China have never been directly answered by Gu. Gu often spoke about sports’ ability to unify rather than dilute at press conferences when she was asked about her citizenship. When I’m in China I’m Chinese. She once said to a reporter that she is American when she’s in the U.S.

Many speculated that China might not allow dual citizenship but it may have acted in its best interests to get Gu. This was for its Beijing Games medal count and international standing. Gu also said to an Instagram user, “It’s literally free on the App Store.” This was in a controversy because it allowed anyone living in China to use the VPN (virtual private network) in order bypass China’s Great Firewall. It allows them access the app that is prohibited in China. She wrote that it was “literally free” on the App store, but she didn’t acknowledge that accessing the technology in China is becoming more difficult and that Chinese users may be penalized for using this tool.

Some Weibo users felt that the controversy had finally made it clear that Gu wasn’t an ordinary Chinese, or at least one of them.

Why Eileen Gu matters

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