The Chinese Medal Factory

Two pieces in the NYT today on the misery of being selected by the state to train as an athlete, each driving home the inherent cruelty in this system. The article also make you wonder whether this is what sports was meant to be. They way you wondered about those East German athletes before the wall came down, the ones injected with hormones and looked like grotesque versions of Charles Atlas.

From the first article:

Yang, one of China’s most successful water sports athletes, has never lived in his apartment. He has not seen his parents in three years. At 24, he lives 250 miles away at his sport’s training center, where he is preparing for the Beijing Olympics.

Yang said he could not stand his life.

For nearly a decade, he has tried to quit canoeing, he told The New York Times during an interview at the training center. He said he would rather attend college or start a business, but acknowledged that he was ill-equipped to do either one.

Many Chinese sports schools, in which more than 250,000 children are enrolled, focus on training at the expense of education. Critics, like the former Olympic diving coach Yu Fen, are calling for changes. They say athletes are unprepared to leave the sports system that has raised them.

“I do not want to work as an athlete, but as an athlete here I have no freedom to choose my future,” Yang said, speaking through the team’s official interpreter. “As a child, I didn’t learn anything but sport, and now what do I do? I can’t do anything else. I have my own dreams, but it is very difficult. I don’t have the foundation to make them come true.”

The article notes, depressingly, that even champion athletes often end up miserable, having trouble paying their bills and having to deal with the effects of hormones they were shot up with. 

Article two is more upsetting, focusing on how Chinese athletes are pressed to keep on training and winning despite injuries. The story of the other Hu Jia – not the activist, but the gold medallist diver – who seriously injured his eye during training, is especially painful.

The parents of the diver, Hu Jia, had surrendered him to trainers from the Chinese sports establishment at the age of 10, and had seen little of him since then. In an interview with a Chinese newspaper after the diver’s injury, his father suggested that this was sacrifice enough. Had he known his son risked blindness, the father said, “I would never have sent him off to dive.”

But less than two months before China hosts the Olympics for the first time, Mr. Hu is training and competing fiercely again, aiming to bolster a national diving squad that China hopes will dominate the sport this summer.

“The Beijing Olympics is an enormous glory to our generation,” Mr. Hu, whose other retina was also injured, was quoted in the Chinese media as saying last year. Speaking of another gold medal, he added, “I will do my utmost to grab one, unless my eyes are really blind.”

Gold medallists here become super-heroes and are showered in gifts and lucrative sponsorships; their faces are everywhere, at least for a few years. It was diver Tian Liang who was ubiquitous when I was here in 2002. Now it’s hurdler Liu Xiang. Is it worth winning all these spoils at the sacrifice of your eyesight? Apparently to Hu Jia it is.

I interviewed a Chinese medallist a few years ago, and it was then that I learned about the “medal factory,” about being torn away from your family and forced to train up to 12 hours a day and living a life essentially of a slave – often a pampered, well-fed and celebrated slave, but a slave nonetheless. Again, it makes you wonder about what it means to be an “amateur” athlete and whether this is what the creators of the moder-day Olympic Games had in mind. 

Read the two articles for the details. It is a good snapshot of the world of athletics in China, a topic that will win increasing coverage this summer as Chinese athletes win one gold medal after another.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 78 Comments

Yeah, well, don’t bring this up with the Chinese. More likelt than not, they’ll regard your effort as “foreigners” yet again passing judgement on the Chinese collective’s rightful effort to earn respect from the world, as opposed to any sincere effort to engage them on how they actually feel about this system and its human consequences. After all, if they can sacrifice their own dreams and goals for the greater good of the country, why shouldn’t other Chinese? Those uppity ingrateful bastards. At least they get well-fed and pampered.

June 21, 2008 @ 3:43 pm | Comment

Well, I did discuss it with a Chinese athlete – she was the one who told me how horrible this system is and how the state robbed her of her childhood and adolescence. In any case, expect to see a lot more articles about this topic.

Well fed and pampered is nice. Is it worth giving up your eyesight?

June 21, 2008 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

Well, as soon as I heard that the guy had retina problem, well, from what I have read about organ harvesting, retina is one main organ stolen from Falun Gong people. I suppose they steel the organs of many types but Falun Gong is the bulk of prisoners who are kidnapped, no trial and treated like vermin and no one stops them, so it’s pretty easy for them to steel those vital organs under the current environment of persecution and coldness.

Have you seen the island? Anyway, you probly think its too freaky to believe, well, thats no excuse for denying it if it really is happening.

So they will just promise him fresh cornea from healthy Falun Gong person.

June 21, 2008 @ 10:10 pm | Comment

Hmmm. Mixed reactions to this one.

When I see articles in Brit/American papers about poor, hard-done-by athletes (and TV performers), I skip over them very quickly. Sorry, millionaires, I have no sympathy for you. None at all.

And here, there’s something of the same. Yang Wenjun made 30,000 US in one day at the Asian games. With what he’s done since then, he’s easily a (yuan) millionaire. It sounds like he does have a tough life, but compared with other sons of peasant rice farmers? They probably work bloody hard, too, and they aren’t millionaires. And he’s not being threatened with jail here. Officials “threatened to withhold his retirement payment” if he didn’t work long enough. Is that even possible? If you don’t work till retirement day, you don’t get your pension. This is normal. Can one then be said to “threaten” not to pay someone money they’re not owed?

For some of the others I have a little more sympathy. Odious bosses who don’t care about your problems (injuries) – that’s something I can relate to. Still, I care less about millionaires with odious bosses. Hu Jia the diver? Appears to be doing it to himself. Social pressure, perhaps – and if the article had been about how that social pressure works, it would have been much more interesting.

On the other hand, the quote from a weightlifter’s parents does strike home: “What else can he do if he doesn’t lift weights?” When you think some of these people are doing it to escape really grim farm lives, then you do have to have sympathy.

June 21, 2008 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

My surfing coach told me only two things distinguish a pro from amateur. Water time and tenacity.

Only way to truly excel at something, it’s to focus almost to the exclusion of everything else. That’s how Warren Buffett became the best investor and richest man in the world. If you read Buffett’s biography, you will find that he is often a detached father and husband. His dream and passion is investing and he is VERY narrowly focused on it. Warren Buffett often said the power of concentration is the most important key to success in life.

Of course, a person should decide for him/herself whether the price is worth paying for.

Hu Jia seem to have made that decision.

Looks like Yang just simply burned out. Which happens often in sports. His coach seem to have forgotten to send him to Hawaii to experience rejuvenating power of vacation.

He also seem to be living his father’s dream than his own. What got gloss over is the fact that HIS FATHER forbade him to quit. But of course, morally indignant and righteous Western hacks such as these “liberal” New York Time journalists loves the morally simplistic tale of oppression by a ruthless system because that’s only extent that their bird sized brains could handle.

June 21, 2008 @ 11:07 pm | Comment


Well, as soon as I heard that the guy had retina problem, well, from what I have read about organ harvesting, retina is one main organ stolen from Falun Gong people.

Actually nothing gets harvested from these people and they are lying sacks of shit.

June 21, 2008 @ 11:15 pm | Comment

China should let athlete such as Yang go. He seem to have lost the fire and passion for the sport. He may have the genetic gift and even mass the skills to be a successful athlete but a less physically talented American or European athlete who still has the fire in his belly and hungry for gold will probably beat him in the final stretch. Desire and passion are powerful forces in this world.

China has legions of youngster who are waiting to prove their mettle, give them a chance instead.

June 21, 2008 @ 11:19 pm | Comment

I agree that “the whole nation comes and trains atheletes” style that China practices is too much, and sometimes is too harsh on the athletes, this is just a legacy and tradition of all authoritarian societies. But I think this article is too one-sided. The person interviewed is someone who “did not make it”, and who didn’t like what he did, and thus complained. How do you know there are those who very much enjoyed their training, their bond with teammates, their enjoyment of sports, etc? And if you become even mildly successful (just be drafted into a provincial level team), then your life is made. If you take a look at the rankings of money/level of celebriy in China, half are movie stars, half are athletes.

If you are a successful sportsman in China, whether in Diving, in Pingpong, in basketball, in swimming, etc. You get all kinds of commercial deals, ad contract, sponsorship, etc. All females (including actresses) will come to you, and you’ll have dated the most beautiful girls. And those went through the same cruel and harsh training, but is it worth it? Well that depends on the person, some say it it is not, others will for sure say it is.

Report it in objective tone, and you can describe all the harshness of the training, and the loss and pain of the atheletes, but also cover the success and fruits of those training and the positive effects on the atheletes. If you report it fairly, I have no problem. But don’t adopt a tone of “this is just another evil product of the evil Communists! Turning people into machines! Their medals are worthless! All through inhumane training and drugs! So if China beat the US in medals in 2008, remember they didn’t play fair!”.

June 22, 2008 @ 12:36 am | Comment

Ferin, what proof do you have? There is evidence for both sides and I have heard more convincing evidence showing that this is taking place. I would like to know how you became so sure that it is not happening. Of course, you are not sure and you do not know for sure, so do you think you are being responsible under the circumstance that those people are being held in gulags all over China?

Why on earth do people who doubt whether it is happening say that it is not true instead of insisting on a thorough third party investigation? Do you want there to be an investigation in China to see whats the clear truth or are you so hateful that you think it is sufficient to just ignore it?

Why do you think an investigation is not permitted (save one guided by ccp tour)?

Open up and let me interview Falun Gong people in China! Did you know that no matter what no reporters can report on Falun Gong and interview those people? How do you know whats going on in those gulags when it is the state secret guarded by all the ccps might?

June 22, 2008 @ 4:20 am | Comment

HongXing,

“Report it in objective tone”

You can’t be serious.

Have you being reading New York Times for the last 15 years?

When Thomas Friedman rank number 16th among top 100 Public Intellectuals, you know there is something seriously wrong with the Western Civilization.

Aya, such is the fate of an once splendid civilization when it passes through mediocre hands.

June 22, 2008 @ 4:33 am | Comment

“Have you being reading New York Times for the last 15 years?”

You’ve obviously spent a little too much time absorbing the ‘truth’ from between the pages of China Daily.

June 22, 2008 @ 9:11 am | Comment

The Times also has a piece on this topic this morning:

http://tinyurl.com/4f29rj

June 22, 2008 @ 9:12 am | Comment

stuart,

I only read Wall Street Journals and Financial Times. I will leave dialy digestion of China Daily to you, my man : )

June 22, 2008 @ 9:32 am | Comment

[...] at Peking Duck has posted about a couple of New York Times articles that explore what it means to be selected as [...]

June 22, 2008 @ 11:22 am | Pingback

We’re having a similar discussion on Fool’s Mountain about the same articles, and our conclusions match Phil and CMD above. Athletes risk their health to succeed world-wide… but the NYT doesn’t seem to be as concerned about NBA players risking their health for Nike.

The second article about Yang is even worse from my point of view. Denying someone a pension for wanting to quit at the age of 24 is not the same thing as “refusing to let them quit”. And finally retiring when you’re finally independently wealthy (as Yang will be) is certainly a form of “freedom”… but not the way the NYT time means the term.

June 22, 2008 @ 11:31 am | Comment

Everyone should go read the link in the trackback above. This is not about Yang or any other individual athlete. It is about an institutionalized form of slavery. Go to the above link to read about how Liu Xiang cannot communicate with his own parents in privacy. Forgetting about this athlete or that athlete, do you (all of you) feel this system of scooping up 6-year-old kids and holding them in training camps to fashion them into perfect athletes is a good thing?

June 22, 2008 @ 11:33 am | Comment

Oops, did I say “our” conclusions match Phil and CMD above? I should say *my* conclusions do. But there are other posters who disagree. We’ll figure this out yet.

June 22, 2008 @ 11:38 am | Comment

They can quit anytime if they (or their parents) want, they just don’t get the pensions for people who honor the contract. How is that slavery?

June 22, 2008 @ 12:07 pm | Comment

Everyone should go read the link in the trackback above. This is not about Yang or any other individual athlete. It is about an institutionalized form of slavery. Go to the above link to read about how Liu Xiang cannot communicate with his own parents in privacy. Forgetting about this athlete or that athlete, do you (all of you) feel this system of scooping up 6-year-old kids and holding them in training camps to fashion them into perfect athletes is a good thing?

Parents and the kids are free to back out, then there’s no one forced to do anything, if that’s the case, then what is the problem? It is a free contract, anyone can terminate at any time.

What do you mean “scooping up”? And slave system? Like a coach sees a kid, and kidnaps him and put him away, and forces him and his parents to agree that he must play gymnastics or swimming, otherwise they get sent to a laogai prison? Are you literally saying that in China, if a 6 year old kid is spotted by a gym coach, then he and his parents have no choice but to obey and send their kids away? You are saying if the kid parents are not allowed to back out? Like literally a slave-owner system? I don’t believe you literally believe that.

June 22, 2008 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

“I only read Wall Street Journals and Financial Times.”

A true convert to capitalistic objectivity; an example to us all.

Do your favoured publications have anything to say about China’s demand for gold?

June 22, 2008 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Eeek, I agree with Buxi.
Well, I’ll have to live with it. Even if you’re horribly wrong on some other issues :)

@Richard – it’s not slavery when you can quit. Just be a bit careful with that word, because it’s a very emotional one. And don’t forget just last year a genuine slavery ring was uncovered in the Henan kilns, where kidnapped children were tied up and beaten. A bit of perspective on the relative merits of these cases makes me want to avoid the word slavery.

I certainly agree that these horrible intensive schools sound like a nightmare. I wouldn’t send my kid to one. And no, I don’t think saying that the parents made a choice to send their children there excuses the awfulness.

But I remain a bit of an unreconstructed lefty, and I find it very hard to have sympathy for people who are much wealthier than the average. You ask us to “forget about this or that athlete”, but that’s all it comes down to in the end. The people. The athletes. They’ve had very tough lives, many of them, and I hope that school system becomes a lot more human very quickly. But they’ve reaped rewards that others don’t have access to as well.

June 22, 2008 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

I agree with those of you saying the article was one-sided. It didn’t describe any athletes who have been satisfied with the system as it stands, it also did not point out that the parents of the these children had a choice at the beginning whether or not to deliver their kids into the hands of the government. They made the choice and have had to deal with the consequences, and as the article describes some now regret that choice. Rather than complaining about the system, perhaps we should be pointing the finger at dumb parents who sold away their children’s freedom to live a life that makes them happy.

The counter-argument is of course, that coming from impoverished backgrounds, these parents had little choice but to “sell” their kids to the government. However, to equate this system with slavery is going too far. Unless you can show me a family that had their kids ripped from their arms by a devilishly grinning government official, I won’t start throwing the slavery accusations around.

In the end, I feel bad for those kids who being so young didn’t have any say in what they wanted to do with their lives, and upon reaching adulthood find themselves ostensibly trapped by financial and social pressures in careers that make them miserable. (How many non-athletes do you know in the same situation? I can name a few.)

At least the ones that do well can wipe their tears away with all money they earn, but I guess in some case the old adage “money can’t buy happiness” proves all too true.

June 22, 2008 @ 1:35 pm | Comment

@Cao
Just out of my own curiosity here, is surfing a competitive sport? Are there international surfing competitions?

“Aya, such is the fate of an once splendid civilization when it passes through mediocre hands.”
I’m sure if you look back at past decades you could find a lot of silliness that was supposed to be taken seriously, and probably more and more the farther you went back. Don’t be fooled by the availability bias.

June 22, 2008 @ 1:39 pm | Comment

Cao Meng De-the surfing, pro-china, wsj-reading neo-con? I love it.

June 22, 2008 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

Maybe “slavery” was too harsh a comparison, but not much. I say that based on my own conversations with two separate athletes whose descriptions of their life sure sounded similar to that of serfs or slaves in that they were sealed off from the rest of the world, forced to work 12 hours a day, had several basic freedoms – like the right to speak freely with their loved ones – severely restricted, etc. It’s easy to say, well they can just quit anytime. But when you are scooped up at the age of 6 or 10 and that harsh environment becomes your everyday routine and you are taught at a very early age this is what you are supposed to do, it is not so easy to just one day say, Enough, I’m out of here. That’s not their mentality, and it’s not like they have something else waiting for them. As I asked before, do you think this is a good system?

June 22, 2008 @ 2:36 pm | Comment

@Lime
Surfing can be a competitive sport and there are indeed international surfing competitions. My surfing buddy was on the UCLA surfing team and had competed in his days. I do it for fun and it’s more of a lifestyle for me.

“I’m sure if you look back at past decades you could find a lot of silliness that was supposed to be taken seriously, and probably more and more the farther you went back. Don’t be fooled by the availability bias.”

You are certainly right. I just find it hard sometimes to suffer fools gladly. One of my friend’s Mom thinks Thomas Friedman is the most brilliant man in contemporary America intellectual scene. I don’t know whether it was some kinda of Jewish Solidarity thing, I bit my tongue since I was a guest at her house.

@Richard
“As I asked before, do you think this is a good system”

You just love to shoot fishes in a barrel, don’t ya?

June 22, 2008 @ 5:18 pm | Comment

Is it that bizarre a question, Cao Meng? Seriously. Do you think it’s a good system? You just love evading….

June 22, 2008 @ 5:43 pm | Comment

For the record, it sounds like a horrible system. It would be interesting to learn how the “scouts” sold what these kids lives would be like to the parents before they carted them off. Anyway, the article does mention that some coaches are trying to change this by at least allowing athletes to receive an education outside sport, so they don’t end up without a lifeline after and injury or age takes them out of the race. Hopefully, this penchant for reform will spread to the whole system, but the question remains how long and why not now?

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any similar pieces in the Chinese media about this topic (haha), so it will probably end up only being debated between foreigners and pro-Chinese English speakers. If it gets any steam it will then become a pro/anti china topic in which the actual issue at hand only becomes a tool for voicing general support or criticism of China, and in the end fades slowly away as the next big story takes over.

Sorry for the cynicism, but this is exactly how it works. All these real problems end up being fodder for detractors and patriots arguing over which country is worse than the other. The problem is ignored in the end and we all go about our business. But it sure is fun debating about this stuff, right?

June 22, 2008 @ 6:16 pm | Comment

Sometimes it’s fun, often it’s exasperating, and every once in a while it’s actually informative. It’s too bad if it becomes a pro-China/anti-China debate; pointing out good or bad things a government does doesn;t mean you’re judging the country as good or bad. I heap criticism on my own country and still I don’t see the US as bad. It could be better, like China. I hope this kind of publicity will help prod the reform process along.

June 22, 2008 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

I always thought that all this “engineered” athletes are very far away from the olympic ideals.

You are not competing with an athlete, you are competing with a men-machine engineering system.

There was a time when no professional athletes were allowed in the OG. No longer now, the games were perverted long time ago. Do you remember the “manly” women athletes of the DDR, or the minute female gymnastics?

What happens to all those kids trained to the extreme who did not make it? What would they parents get in return? What would the kid themselves get in return?
A lost infancy, a crippled teenager hood and maybe a damaged body? And maybe even despised by the countrymen for not been able to make it?

This is not the Olympic ideal. Would like to know what the old Greek would say about this.

June 22, 2008 @ 9:07 pm | Comment

Mens sana in corpore sano or mens in-sana in corpore in-sano?
(a healthy mind in a healthy body or a un-healthy mind in an un-healthy body?)

June 22, 2008 @ 9:46 pm | Comment

Sometimes it’s fun, often it’s exasperating, and every once in a while it’s actually informative. It’s too bad if it becomes a pro-China/anti-China debate; pointing out good or bad things a government does doesn;t mean you’re judging the country as good or bad.

Criticizing a gov’t over a certain issue is ok. But you say it’s not about pro-China/anti-China, yet all the opening thread of this blog China-related is negative, isn’t it? I mean, can you show me an opening thread made by major contributors in this blog that has a “net positive” attitude towards a certain issue/policy of the Chinese government? Show me one opening entry on this blog, which after you read it, you can say “Hmm, this time this entry actually says something positive about the Chinese government or China in general”. Can you? In the history of this blog, in all the entries you have written, can you show me even one such entry?

June 22, 2008 @ 11:21 pm | Comment

agree with eco,

It is not natural to force athletic excellence. Things that are forced to the extreme loose their value it seems. Honest hard work is good and athletics is cool, but are you really a better athlete than Joe next door or did you just have a really unnatural lifestyle that bred you for competition? Thats the thing, people use all this modern technology, simulators and all weird stuff to form the performers into medal takers, its all a big joke. Its supposed to be fun for all people, but these are no longer people they are winning machines and it really looses its sporting appeal and shifts toward sponsorship appeal and in Chinas case (and others for sure) it is a tool reared by the regime to create devotion to the party by harnessing nationalism as well as showing off and trying to gain international support through petty means.

I mean can you really say wow that guy is so impressive!, when they have been treated so strangely their whole lives, bred to win medals. not so fun.

June 22, 2008 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

@ecodelta

“This is not the Olympic ideal. Would like to know what the old Greek would say about this.”

Spartans would probably love it. Intensely trained Man-Machines make good solders. That was the whole point of original Olympics anyway.

@richard

My take is quite obvious from the way I phrase the question to you. You don’t need to be a rocket-scientist to figure out what I meant.

June 22, 2008 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

@ecodelta

continued

Taking little boys away from their family to subject them to harsh conditioning…

Yup, Sparta would’ve approved.

June 22, 2008 @ 11:57 pm | Comment

@Cao meng de
“Yup, Sparta would’ve approved.”

Next time you go to Greece, visit Athens and visit Sparta. The cities do still exist.
Then tell me which side of history do you prefer.
If you prefer Sparta, well never mind.

About man machines making good soldier, they tend to be mentally rather inflexible.
Just change the fighting strategy and they are unable to cope.
That happened to the Spartans against peltasts in the battle of lechaeum, the Teban phalanx and Macedonian phalanx.

June 23, 2008 @ 1:58 am | Comment

Very interesting, this thread! Most interesting, nobody here seems to think about those kids. Did anybody (parents/teachers/trainers/CCP officials/BOCOG officials) ever ask those four/six/ten-year-olds: “Are you willing to give up your childhood and your youth for the faint possibility of (maybe/possibly) someday winning a gold medal at an international competition? And are you aware of the fact that you might be one of the many people that chase that dream for years, if not decades, and all they get is being an invalid for the rest of their lives?”
Did anybody ever seriously, honestly tell those kids all that? I don’t think so.

June 23, 2008 @ 5:16 am | Comment

But you say it’s not about pro-China/anti-China, yet all the opening thread of this blog China-related is negative, isn’t it?

Absolutely, totally false. Simply not true. Look around for my most of my posts about China’s foreign policy, the efficiency of Hu in seeing the country needs for resources are met, the beautiful spirit of the people here, especially after the recent earthquake, the improved morale and pocketbooks of the average Chinese person – it’s all here. I am extremely critical of the US and Chinese governments. But I try to see the bright spots of each. Looking over your and ferins’ comments, how many positive thing have you ever written about the US. Just askin’….

June 23, 2008 @ 7:14 am | Comment

@ecodelta

Figures that you would be familiar with exploits of Theban’s Sacred Band. Thebans’ victory at the Battle of Leuctra was simply due to the fact that Epaminondas was a tactical genius.

Spartan’s strategy of relying on bunch of physically and mentally toughened meatheads may not have been elegant but it served them well until they confronted Epaminondas of Thebes.

The fact that it was the first attested time that a Spartan army would lose a land battle at full strength showed that this was an exception rather than the rule.

“About man machines making good soldier, they tend to be mentally rather inflexible.”

Good soldiers don’t necessarily make great generals.

People like Yang are more akin to foot soldiers than the grand marshal.

June 23, 2008 @ 8:40 am | Comment

@ecodelta

continued

“Next time you go to Greece, visit Athens and visit Sparta. The cities do still exist.
Then tell me which side of history do you prefer.”

My preference for ancient Greek city-states is irrelevant to the fact that Sparta defeated Athenian Empire in Peloponnesian War.

Your non sequitur question is equivalent of

“Next time you go to Asia, visit historic sites of Beijing, Hangzhou, Samarkand, Isfahan and visit Mongolia.
Then tell me which side of history do you prefer.”

Genghis Khan and his descendants would conquer all the flourishing civilizations from China to Persia.

As for what the Great Khan preferred, look up Kublai.

June 23, 2008 @ 1:41 pm | Comment

@mor

i think that if you told a kid that, they would not understand or think it won’t happen to them. children think they are immortal and that everything is possible.

@everyone

i’d like to bring this thread back before it starts to descend. i think there are valid points on both sides, but it does make me think about the film “hoop dreams” where as i recall one of the kids has to have an operation which may make him a cripple in later life. he doesn’t think twice about taking it. did he make the nba? what do you think? it also reminds me of seeing a programme in the uk about a father who wants his kid to play for chelsea, so has him up at 4am jogging with a football every day. he is trying to get his boy into the millwall (i think) youth team, so the pressure on the boy is huge. i think we could say that kid is effectively a slave to his father’s dreams.

international/professional sports are brutal, though the Chinese system does seem a bit extreme. But then, when China’s face is on the line, it tends to be.

June 23, 2008 @ 6:08 pm | Comment

I agree with some of the people in here that it is not just in China that sometimes Athletes are being pushed beyond limits and paying a price in lifetime injuries chasing their olympic goals. For every Liu Xiangs out there, there must be at least 10 Hu Jias out there were disillusioned being unable to attain their olympic goal because of injuries.

June 23, 2008 @ 11:00 pm | Comment

Your description of the philosophy of Warren Buffet is less than accurate.

June 24, 2008 @ 12:28 am | Comment

It is possible you have seen the ocean before and may have gotten your feet wet at one time. It is certain that the moisture content behind your ears is extemely high, but it is most likely not sea water, but bath water.

June 24, 2008 @ 12:31 am | Comment

I am a rocket scientist, with 17 years experience working as an engineer on a major guided missile program. You are a boy who has access to a personal computer and most likely does not have a surf board or own any stocks other than those you may have received from your parents.

It is a bitter thing to be faced with the realization that Thomas Friedman has actually written a book that contains some insights of interest and benefit to other’s, while a bitter child is left sitting in front of his computer screen red faced with a lame rejoinder of “oh ya I read the wall street journal and the financial times”

Here is a homework problem for you to tackle. How many readers of the wall street journal are there, and of that number how many are spoiled children who has their dirty underwear washed by their mother?

June 24, 2008 @ 12:43 am | Comment

To understand your meaning requires the patience and knowledge of an experienced child psychologist. It would also require that the reader care what you have to say, but after the time wasted attempting to read the scribblings, the reader is left with the sense that one has encountered a bitter hostile child with low self esteem who is disparately jealous of others, does not feel comfortable with the culture of his immigrant parents or the culture of the country he is now a resident of, and lashes out with fits to gain attention, oddly he wants to be admired, but at the same time insults those he desires admiration from.

June 24, 2008 @ 12:52 am | Comment

@Yoda

Oh ya!. Well read this then:

NYT June 22, 2008 Op-Ed Columnist THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN was fired today after it was discovered that a highly intelligent blogging child prodigy refered to Mr. Friedman “When Thomas Friedman rank number 16th among top 100 Public Intellectuals, you know there is something seriously wrong with the Western Civilization.” A NYT editorial board spokesman said, “When we heard that guy on the internet who not only reads the Wall Street Journal but also the Financial Times questioning Mr Friedman’s credentials we knew we had to act fast. I mean that blogger guy says he has a surfing buddy! Man is he cool!”

June 24, 2008 @ 3:37 am | Comment

@Anti-Yoda

I would think that a wealthy twinky who reads the Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times could afford to purchase a video camera and document his reality for upload to a webpage viewable by all who care to observe.

Possible likely identities:
1) Teenage boy child of wealthy Chinese immigrants to US.

2) Chinese national posing as a teenage boy child of wealthy Chinese immigrants to US.

3) some lame white teenage boy child posing on the blogosphere

June 24, 2008 @ 3:49 am | Comment

The New York Times, American liberals in general, and many commenters at this blog share two things in common; a love of mediocrity and a sense of entitlement the size of Mount Everest. Heaven forbid people actually have to work hard to make their fortune living in a poor country.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:03 am | Comment

@Yoda

Don’t you think it strange that he disappeared there for a while? Almost like the semester ended and he went on vacation with mom and dad someplace. Now he’s back with new found energy to tell us all how cool he is hanging out with Flea, Patrick Swayze and Keanu in Malibu and Dockweiler Beach. I bet all the other surfers say hey look its the twinky who reads THE JOURNAL.

Only certainty is he, she or it wants others to believe something that is not clearly factual. We should refer to our copy of Laoshe’s Cha Guan and try to determine which one of the archetypical characters in that famous play the moy child most resembles in this new post modern chinese dark society. Mmmm maybe unseen child of the thugs or maybe unseen child of wealthy patrons.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:08 am | Comment

Yes and we also all are card carrying members of the Young Pioneers and proud owners of I Heart China T-shirts.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:11 am | Comment

@Yoda,

Hahaha… You are a trip, you little green man, you.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:17 am | Comment

Required reading by lovers of mediocrity everywhere of all walks of life, creed, ethnical background, political affiliation shenmede deng deng.

1. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman

2. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

3. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations…One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson

4. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by Dalai Lama

5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

6. TEAHOUSE – A Play in Three Acts by LAO SHE

June 24, 2008 @ 4:21 am | Comment

Things The New York Times, American liberals in general, and many commenters at this blog share in common:

Sunsets.

Martin Guitars especially 000-18 style

Fender Telecasters.

Gibson Les Paul Deluxes

The music of John Coltrane.

The Bill of Rights.

The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt

The Poetry of Robert Frost

Black Walnut Ice Cream

New York Style Pizza

Philly Cheese steaks from Geno’s or Pat’s King of Steaks.

Hope.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:26 am | Comment

How many medals do you think the PRC, USA, and the Russian Federation will win this year? Price Water House is predicating a slight edge to the PRC this time, even though performance from 2004 would indicate USA winning more medals. Seems distressing that modern nations want to revive eugneics theories from the 30′s again.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:34 am | Comment

I have always been awestruck by readers of THE JOURNAL

June 24, 2008 @ 4:39 am | Comment

Jing,

Do you have plans to bring back “Those who dare”? We need more Patriotic Vanguard Revolutionaries to counter Counter – Revolutionaries Big and Small.

June 24, 2008 @ 4:58 am | Comment

Richard,

You ask if it’s a good system. Just so you know: the alternative system in China isn’t the US Olympic Committee and the NCAA, but rather the vacuum that is Indian sports. Should Yang have been left on the farm thrashing wheat and digging ditches, rather than performing in world-level sports? It’s a debatable point, especially from the perspective of Chinese tax-payers who might be wondering *why* they should be paying Yang’s retirement pension. And despite the insinuation above, this topic is discussed in the Chinese press.

But what is not a debatable point, in my opinion, is whether this is “slavery”.

Are you familiar with how the collegiate athletics system works in the US? Are you familiar with the story of Ricky Williams, the wanna-be pot-smoking Buddhist? Are you aware of the numerous Argentinian / Brazilian football players denied the right to participate in the Beijing Olympics by their Italian football club employers? Slavery? Freedom? My comrade Phil is completely right on this issue.

June 24, 2008 @ 5:32 am | Comment

I appreciate the comment, Buxi. As mentioned, I came to my conclusions more based on conversations I’ve had with actual Chinese athletes. I know these things aren’t necessarily black and white. China’s system struck me as crueler and with fewer choices. I don’t see the corollary between the cruelty of the training system and the Argentina’s refusal to allow players to participate in a sport. That’s cruel, but I don’t see it in the same category of cruel. And, of course, if their system is cruel it doesn’t make China’s system any less so.

June 24, 2008 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Heaven forbid people actually have to work hard to make their fortune living in a poor country.

No one ever disparaged hard work. I think the key issues are pushing ahead although you may go blind, being brought up in a way that doesn’t let you fit back into society and with no safety net (and thus making the poor poorer), having freedoms restricted and living a life that I’ve heard described many times as agonizing and lonely. Other countries may be just as bad, but China happens to be the one I’ve learned about.

June 24, 2008 @ 6:10 am | Comment

Richard,

As far as pushing ahead and going blind, we talked about the NBA player Alonzo Mourning. Here’s a guy who risked death just to keep playing basketball. Why? To keep his Nike sponsors happy? To keep his agent wealthy? To buy a bigger mansion? Whatever the reason, I don’t see it as being any more glorious than Hu risking his eyesight.

Having freedoms restricted and living a life that’s “agonizing and lonely” is cruel when it’s forced on them. *Choosing* to do so is just self-sacrifice that doesn’t deserve pity, only respect and understanding. And for children who are minors, in just about any society, their parents have the right to choose for them. That’s as true for a Chinese athlete as a home-schooled American ice skater denied a normal child-hood.

@ecodelta,

On a different note, we’ve talked before (when I was CCT). I believe you’re Spanish? Would like your opinion and feedback on the EU’s integration vis-a-vis the Chinese obsession with unification.

http://blog.foolsmountain.com/?p=252

June 24, 2008 @ 7:23 am | Comment

They can quit anytime if they (or their parents) want, they just don’t get the pensions for people who honor the contract. How is that slavery?

Because when they’re young the parents are lied to or only see a short-term benefit. When the child becomes an adult he/she, as richard establishes, realises they can now ONLY do sport. They don’t have an education and qualifications to go through the education system, and no one will offer them a half-decent job without formal grades, work experience, etc.

They’re between a rock and a hard place.

June 24, 2008 @ 3:05 pm | Comment

@Richard
“pointing out good or bad things a government does doesn;t mean you’re judging the country as good or bad”

It would be great if more people “got” this idea. A lot of people still haven’t quite figured out how to philosophically separate government from nation. Unfortunately, I also think that personal and political have somehow become so entangled that people tend to interpret criticism of larger issues as personal attacks and end up defending their opinions as if defending their own mother. Absurdity at its finest.

“I hope this kind of publicity will help prod the reform process along.”
I hope so too.

June 24, 2008 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

Cao Meng De

Why is it when I look in the mirror I see your beautiful face gazing back at me?

June 24, 2008 @ 11:47 pm | Comment

Actually, I can’t be bothered to work up the effort to write more than now. I will keep my comments short and pithy from here on out. By the way, the post above is not by me. I wish people wouldn’t imitate other posters.

June 25, 2008 @ 2:51 am | Comment

Busy with that skateboard aint ya.

June 25, 2008 @ 3:04 am | Comment

@Richard,

“As I asked before, do you think this is a good system?”

Probably not, in terms of good as in “feeling good”. But it enables the Chinese athletes to compete at the global level. That’s what counts. In this sense, yes.

Are sweat shops good? Fuck no, again in terms of “feeling good”. But they offer a way out of poverty, for those workers and the country, when there isn’t much more than their sweat that they possess to compete with in this global economy. That is what counts.

June 26, 2008 @ 10:48 pm | Comment

But there could be a way out of poverty without such a harsh and restrictive training system. It doesn’t have to be either dire poverty or have your life in effect taken away so that you might have a one in 10 million chance of becoming an athletic superstar, while knowing that most likely you’ll simply be discarded by the system and left to rot if you don’t win the medal. It shouldn’t be just those two options. You can train to be a great athlete and have a life. It is not unprecedented.

June 26, 2008 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

Since when did sport become a means of winning prestige for your country and not just simple, innocent, healthy fun?

The Olympic Games is an oxymoron. A GAME should be FUN; if it’s to be taken seriously, it shouldn’t be called a game anymore. Are the Olympic Games fun? Especially for the participants?

As for Cao Meng De’s adulation of the Spartans, where’s ancient Greece TODAY? Hardly a superpower. If the Spartans were such great fighters, why did Greece eventually get taken over by Rome?

June 27, 2008 @ 1:51 am | Comment

@Richard,

“But there could be a way out of poverty without such a harsh and restrictive training system.”

Sadly, I don’t think so.

Either you get touch and kick ass or get your ass kicked. In competitive sports, there’s no other way. Same reason many young lives get ruined by using steroids in America.

Same shit happens day in an day out all over the world. A pimple is a pimple. China has a big ass one, that’s why you see it.

I’m kind of glad for them because at least they can dream their dream of becoming a superstar and are able to act on it. In that sense, I don’t pity them. I respect them.

June 27, 2008 @ 5:21 am | Comment

It is not a matter of respect for the athlete. To even bring that up, as though pointing out the evils in the training system is in some way disrespectful to individual athletes, is very coy. It’s pretty obvious you’ve never spoken to one of those athletes you respect so much. I have major problems with the system precisely because I respect the athletes, and believe they should be treated with respect and as human beings. It’s pretty clear that if their coaches put nails in the athlete’s food you’d defend it because it makes the athletes “tough.”

June 27, 2008 @ 8:05 am | Comment

To Yoda,
For the benefit of the doubt, I assume you are a rocket scientist, with 17 years experience working as an engineer on a major guided missile program, so what? Does that make you a credible figure that is entitled to look down upon Cao Meng De? These days rocket scientists are no longer sought-after, those cool folks are flocking to hedge fund, astrophysics.I would be much impressed if you claim yourself as a former senior CIA operative.
A major guided missile program? Missiles to blow up other countries or missiles to protect yourself from retaliation when you blow up other countries? I’m sure you must be very proud of yourself.

June 29, 2008 @ 9:07 am | Comment

to K T Ong
Since when did sport become a means of winning prestige for your country and not just simple, innocent, healthy fun?
When sports become a business, it is no longer just innocent and fun.I believe you are not naive enough to not realize that.

The Olympic Games is an oxymoron. A GAME should be FUN; if it’s to be taken seriously, it shouldn’t be called a game anymore. Are the Olympic Games fun? Especially for the participants?
Representing your country to compete on a global arena, it is more a thing of pride than of fun, given the population on this planet is still divided into countries with sovereignty and tangible borders. If not, would it be kind of odd when you see medal winners become very emotional when their national flags are hoisted?

As for Cao Meng De’s adulation of the Spartans, where’s ancient Greece TODAY? Hardly a superpower. If the Spartans were such great fighters, why did Greece eventually get taken over by Rome?
Every superpower dies, even the mighty Rome. Spartans are admired for their girt and loyalty other than their conquest. I trust you know the story of King Leonidas of Sparta.

June 29, 2008 @ 9:44 am | Comment

Richard,

I was by no means indicating you were being disrespectful.

Honestly, I was quite put off by these articles. They are dripping with cheap intention to stir up pity and rage. The same old theme of the evil dark force and poor used and abused athletes of China.

See, when you devote your life to achieving something great, there’s a good chance that you fall. Chinese athletes don’t enjoy as good of a cushion as their American counterparts do.

So where’s the wider context mentioned in these articles? Where’s the background story for the people to truly understand why so many Chinese athletes do what they do despite of all the hardship?

The authors seem to have avoided to promote an understanding, or maybe they just didn’t care. I’m sure most readers could care less either. Understanding? Who needs that? We just need things to strengthen what we already believe in!

July 3, 2008 @ 3:05 am | Comment

Hey Richard!

Wish I’d seen this earlier, but I’ll still comment for the record.

I personally met a young woman who had been in the Chinese Olympic training program until she was forced to drop out a few years ago because her young body had been worked to the point where she suffered physical damage and could no long compete. I got to know her story in very great detail.

Of the many awful conditions she described, one stands out. In her sport, EVERY SINGLE ATHLETE, male or female, was on a long-term regimen of drugs.

No one asked the athletes’ (or their parents’) permission, no one explained what they were being given. Night after night, they were simply told to go one by one to the coach’s room, where the syringes were lined up on the table, and got their injections.

She described the effects on their bodies. The males turned into muscled Apollos. Some of her girlfriends grew mustaches, their shoulders broadened, their voices deepened. There was little doubt as to what was going on, but there was no option. It was just part of the training. The young athletes (many of them teens) simply accepted it as they accepted everything else they were ordered to do.

Her story was really depressing. The relentless, grueling, inhuman training. The lack of attention to their educations. The secretive trips to East European destinations for additional drug injections. The regimented, cloistered lives they led in the sporting academy dormitories.

She mentioned how surprised they were that some American athletes in her sport were in their 30s. No Chinese athletes in her program ever made it that far. By their early twenties, their bodies were simply worn out.

Another weird detail that stuck in my memory: the Olympians had a wonderful cafeteria, and were free to eat anything they wanted. But they had no dietary guidance at all. She recalled one young female athlete who apparently lived on a diet of chicken wings.

Despite all this, the former athlete was not bitter. She regretted the lack of education, the drug dosing, and her training injury. Yet she still has an Olympian’s spirit, and truly loves her country. After being forced to drop out of the program, she managed to catch up on her education and eventually earned a college degree. A really remarkable and admirable young woman!

July 3, 2008 @ 4:36 pm | Comment

[...] just want to be sure that all of you see this comment from longtime friend and reader Shanghai Slim. It verifies what I’ve heard first- and [...]

July 3, 2008 @ 5:42 pm | Pingback

“Yet she still has an Olympian spirit, and truly loves her country.”

We all do, we truly love that country. And we all have that Olympic spirit, we really do. And we tell all those bastards who keep bragging about their health, their environment, their children’s lives and all those trifles, we really do, but those ungrateful bastards just won’t listen.

July 4, 2008 @ 7:14 am | Comment

I will probably get shot down for this, but as a Canadian who has lived and worked in China for man, many years, (since 1991, in fact), I have had both the privilege and sorrow to see a multitude of things inside and outside China.
Yes, I have seen people who have not had the opportunity to follow their own dreams… ON BOTH SIDES OF THE POLITICAL RHETORIC. Yes, I have seen people forced to work at jobs they have little or no chance to excel at… ON BOTH SIDES. Yes, I have seen hungry and homeless… (yup! again… on both sides). I have seen crime, punishment, control, errors, patriotism, humanitarianism, oppression, consideration, responsibility, freedom, success, failure… about every form of measurement modern society has… ON BOTH SIDES OF THE PACIFIC.
The one thing I have rarely seen is honesty and a willingness to admit failure… ON BOTH SIDES OF THE PACIFIC.
Sorry to those who stereotype people, civilizations, ethnic groups, governments and culture. I have no wish to offend anyone. My only wish is to be able to read a true opinion based upon fact, not fictional excuse, unethical gain, ill-educated beliefs or simply gross indecent racism. Simple, factual, educated and informed truth is my personal craving.
Best of luck to the sensationalists, the beaten, the ill-equipped who fail to comprehend due to laziness, pride or simple need to have someone hear their not-so-honest voice in a crowd.

August 13, 2008 @ 10:13 pm | Comment

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