Chinese athletes start to speak out

Way back before most of you ever heard of this blog, I put up a post about an interview I had with a Chinese Olympic medal-winner, which you can find here. She talked to me about how difficult it was to train to be an athlete in China:

“Training in China is very different than in the US,” Chen Lu explained. “The skaters move away from their families and live with their team. We had to live in a dormitory year after year and we couldn’t see our parents very much. And there were so many pressures from the coaches, and from the government – it is not easy. It’s totally different from in the United States.”

I think all of us know what kind of pressures Chinese athletes are put under. A lot of my work in 2008 revolved around the Beijing Olympics, and I heard many stories about what a hard life it is. That may be why Chinese athletes in certain categories like diving and gymnastics do so splendidly. But is it humane, and is it fair? It seems now that more and more Chinese athletes are saying it isn’t.

Chinese athletes, once dutiful ambassadors who obediently spent their lives in pursuit of patriotic glory, are no longer willing to just grin and bear it. A series of recent controversies is shedding light on how young athletes are beginning to expose abuse, challenge exploitation and reject official interference in their careers — risky moves in a country where there is no separation of sport and state. Their struggle is a microcosm of the clash in contemporary China between the push for personal liberty and the grip of an authoritarian government….

“What’s happening now is the younger generation of athletes has so many options to communicate, through microblogs and social networking, that they want to stand up and speak out,” said Jiang Yi, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated China.

Yet athletes face a formidable opponent: the state-run sports system — a bureaucracy of training schools, teams and government organizations that selects and coaches more than 250,000 young people for the purpose of winning gold medals.

The system offers many athletes the chance to bring honor to their families and country through competition. But some of these athletes find that the Olympic rings become shackles that bind them for years in indentured servitude to a government that frequently neglects their scholastic education and ignores their injuries while taking a sizable cut of their earnings, all in the name of national pride.

It is a recipe that leaves many athletes unprepared to compete in the real world once they can no longer perform in a stadium. According to the state news media, 240,000 retired athletes suffer from injuries, poverty and unemployment.

Of course, the head of China’s basketball association puts the blame on the spoiled athletes, who don’t understand that a good thrashing is good for them. They only do it because they care.

“Coaches treat their players like their children, and it’s completely normal for parents to hit their kids,” Bai Xilin, the C.B.A.’s chairman of game operations, said in an interview.

Bai acknowledged that the old guard has trouble relating to younger players who have grown up in a more open and prosperous era. But he dismissed the players’ complaints as evidence of a generation gone spoiled. “Kids these days are unable to eat bitterness,” he said. “They want the results but they aren’t willing to endure the hard times.”

I’ve written before about the abuse Chinese athletes are subjected to. It’s a topic dear to my heart. Chinese athletes are in effect indentured servants, and the government owns them. They exist not because they are human beings but because they win medals, and once they stop winning medals they are tossed aside and left to cope for themselves, despite being robbed of their childhoods, despite having cultivated no other skills.

It brings to mind the athletes of the old Soviet Union and East Germany, pumped full of hormones (female athletes often looked like men), and then left to deal with the devastation wreaked on their bodies. I’m delighted to see this scandal getting the exposure it deserves.

______________

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: 33 Comments

Why don’t we talk about the PLA and the new carrier they’ve just put to its first maiden sea try out.

August 19, 2011 @ 3:32 pm | Comment

@NJ. Are you tres serious.

I have sorted this issue twice, and make sure you read the links ….around 20 pages if I recall.

http://kingtubbysblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/military-affairs-why-pacific-will-turn.html KTs Military Affairs Desk

http://kingtubby1.wordpress.com/….China’s Military Striptease

Some people are slow…..

August 19, 2011 @ 3:51 pm | Comment

I haven’t had the chance to get to your older posts. But, I don’t know if athletes abuse is much of interested to many of your readers.

August 19, 2011 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

Question of time before one of those 16-going-on-8-year-old gymnasts spills the beans about their real age.

There’s a link here with yesterday’s basketball brawl: the incessant need to win (or avoid face-losing defeat to foreigners) by whatever means possible speaks of a staggering degree of immaturity at all levels of China’s sporting hierarchy. And from there we could segue seemlessly to either Chinese business practices, or the sub-rational rantings of Zhongnanhai on ‘sensitive’ issues.

But let’s stick to the sport…

August 19, 2011 @ 7:48 pm | Comment

I don’t know if athletes abuse is much of interested to many of your readers.

It’s of interest to me, and that’s who i write this blog for.

August 19, 2011 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

I’m interested and agree with your general take. I guess those “self-centered post-90s brats” ARE good for something. I hope we hear more of these exploited young people speaking out.

August 20, 2011 @ 1:13 am | Comment

In the lead up to the Olympics, why were the servers of the IOC hacked, as the recent evidence released indicating Chinese interests doing the hacking?

August 21, 2011 @ 9:20 am | Comment

Chinese athletes, blah blah blah dutiful obediently blah blah spent their lives pursuit of patriotic glory blah blah blah blahdeblah grin and bear it. controversies is shedding light on young athletes abuse, exploitation official interference — risky moves no separation of sport and state. struggle clash contemporary China personal liberty grip of authoritarian government….

Propaganda overload.

Breaking News: Life in Developing Countries not as Nice as Life in Rich Countries, Experts Shocked

August 22, 2011 @ 2:32 am | Comment

stuart
There’s a link here with yesterday’s basketball brawl: the incessant need to win (or avoid face-losing defeat to foreigners) by whatever means possible

Nice way to interpret endless provocations by a dying power staking its entire Hollywood-derived faux masculine pride on putting “third worlders” in their place.

When America faces a sovereign nation with a healthy amount of national pride, they are never pleased.

The Chinese players meted out light punishment for the constant fouls. The American player basically tripped and then kicked a Chinese player in the back, after hours of dirty play. In return he got a few knocks on the head.

August 22, 2011 @ 2:35 am | Comment

Nice way to interpret endless provocations by a dying power staking its entire Hollywood-derived faux masculine pride on putting “third worlders” in their place.

People will provoke you if you appear to be weak and provokable. Why is it that China’s GDP and economy and “international standing” and “national strength” is several fold of Mao’s time, and yet nowadays everyone can walk around and poke you in the eye, slap you on the face, spank you on the butt?

When you run an economy based on cheap underwear and toys, polluting your citizens’ cities and your children’s water, so you can get a smile and some cheap dollar bills from the foreign masters, you deserve to be treated cheaply.

When a prostitute opens her legs, why should any men refuse?

Deng Shopping and his prostitute economy led China to her state today.

August 22, 2011 @ 10:49 am | Comment

To #8:
indeed, life in a developing country may not be as nice. And that justifies a basketball coach beating up his teenage players? That justifies national associations doing funny math when it comes to a gymnast’s age? Life in a developing country may not be as nice. How much abuse of that country’s people by that country’s governing powers does that justify, exactly?

To #9:
“endless provocations”? LOL. WHat page of the playbook did that come from?

Here’s something to chew on. More than 40 more foul shots from the charity stripe, and the game was still tied. Even with the ref trying to gift wrap the game for them, they still couldn’t deliver. That must suck.

August 22, 2011 @ 12:11 pm | Comment

@The Clock – So let me get this straight – basically their some Maoist collective out there that has assigned one of its members to post on this blog?

@Cookie monster –

“Breaking News: Life for athletes in Developing Countries dictatorships not as Nice as Life in Rich Countries, Experts Shocked

There, fixed it for you – because you couldn’t possibly be trying to say that Sachin Tendulkar or Usain Bolt are badly treated.

August 22, 2011 @ 2:02 pm | Comment

Damn Richard, does strike-through not work on your blog?

August 22, 2011 @ 2:03 pm | Comment

strike

August 22, 2011 @ 9:37 pm | Comment

Richard is away with no Internet access. Back in 2 days.

Monitor

August 22, 2011 @ 10:50 pm | Comment

FOARP
There, fixed it for you – because you couldn’t possibly be trying to say that Sachin Tendulkar or Usain Bolt are badly treated.

And it’s too bad to, with a fraction of the resources spent on them they could feed a good number of the 30-70% of people who are starving in their respective countries.

The Western “perspective” never fails.

August 23, 2011 @ 6:43 am | Comment

…just like some of the resources the CCP uses to coerce national glory out of her athletes could be used for regular folk, or even to retrain athletes for the real world once they lose their competitive usefulness, so that former gold medallists aren’t reduced to pan-handling on beijing streets.

Yet another example of Ccp priorities sometimes not necessarily being in step with Chinese people’s priorities.

August 24, 2011 @ 2:15 am | Comment

@SKC – Zing!

@Cookie Monster – Errr . . . what money are you talking about? Sachin Tendulkar came up through a privately-funded foundation, Usain Bolt was trained by a former Olympic champion who was volunteering.

Meanwhile, no-one is starving in Jamaica, a country which is roughly 20% richer in terms of nominal per-capita GDP than the PRC. In fact, unlike China, which had rationing and mass-malnutrition up until at least the mid-80′s, Jamaica has never seen famine.

The statistics you quote for India are some twelve or more years out of date. The latest WHO survey (2006) showed India to be at about the same level of nutrition and child mortality as China was in the mid-nineties. This is not surprising, given that Indian economic reform only came more than ten years after Chinese economic reform.

August 24, 2011 @ 6:51 am | Comment

Only reference I have found for starvation in Jamaica is from 1895
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30614FA3A5E10738DDDA80994D9415B8585F0D3
The more modern reference I have is from an opposition spokesman (that’s something to do with multi-party democracies….but as CM lives in one, he’ll know all about it) so mayhaps a bit of scare-mongering is going on…
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20090213/news/news7.html

For India, I have found a figure of 4800 deaths due to starvation in the last 4 years (2009 reference, so make that the last 6 years)
http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?663772
I dunno but 4800 out of a billion or so don’t fit into the 30-70% bracket….

In China I find this http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/07/media-report-uncovers-use-of-starvation-in-detention-camp/
Pesky petitioners, eh?

August 24, 2011 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

SK Cheung
could be used for regular folk

Incomes in China have grown faster than any other nation’s in the history of man. I doubt you could do any better.

or even to retrain athletes for the real world once they lose their competitive usefulness

Do you think life is a cakewalk for the typical person in China?

FOARP
20% richer in terms of nominal per-capita GDP

How can you be “richer” in GDP? GDP isn’t wealth. If you cut your arm off you earn GDP for your nation through medical bills. Likewise, nominal doesn’t mean anything for nutrition nor living standards, especially if you count for wealth and/or income inequality.

Not exactly impressive for a nation that gets tons of free money in the form of tourism and AID from its rich neighborhood. China’s life expectancy surpassed theirs, disability-adjusted life years are higher, HIV infections are less prevalent. And you mentioned economic reform, so when did Jamaica reform economically?

The latest WHO survey (2006) showed India to be at about the same level of nutrition and child mortality as China was in the mid-nineties. This is not surprising, given that Indian economic reform only came more than ten years after Chinese economic reform.

I’m skeptical. Everything from disease to height statistics seem to contradict this assertion – and India has been growing *much* slower than China at similar absolute GDP levels. Likewise, they have accumulated wealth even slower.

Also from 2006:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_distribution_of_wealth

The gap is widening – see Credit Suisse’s most recent compilation of wealth data. Jamaica’s also in there.

August 24, 2011 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

aid should be in lowercase *

August 24, 2011 @ 12:38 pm | Comment

Mike Goldthorpe
For India, I have found a figure of 4800 deaths due to starvation in the last 4 years

Deaths from starvation =/= deaths from malnutrition

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malnutrition

India contributes to about 5.6 million child deaths every year, more than half the world’s total.

Good try, though. You must take 5.6 million child deaths per year very lightly. Likewise, the UN tables assume a standard spread of calorie consumption between nations without regard to true distribution nor content beyond calories.

I have absolutely no doubt that China, calorie for calorie, gets more protein, micronutrients, and a more complete protein profile distributed more fairly when compared to India.

Difference in prevalence rates of key diseases like goiter are sure to give a much more revealing picture. I mean just open your eyes and take a look at India and then China and you’ll see why GDP is meaningless for living standards.

Take a look at this:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/39145376/Abridged-Wealth-Distribution

India’s per capita wealth is $5,000 USD; the difference in true PPP per capita wealth is even greater because 1) China’s prices were heavily distorted by an urban bias; life in China (and less so in India) is cheaper than typical PPP measures claim and 2) wealth distribution in India is very wide.

Seriously, everyone needs to stop using GDP as a miracle statistic for everything. Look at wealth instead, which is essentially (GDP – Damages – Expenditure) compounded over decades.

August 24, 2011 @ 1:02 pm | Comment

@Cookie Monster – Congratulations at catastrophically missing the point. That being that neither Jamaicans nor Indians are starving because of Usain Bolt or Sachin Tendulkar – which since you originally said that in both Jamaicans and Indians are starving because of them, means you must be wrong.

August 24, 2011 @ 1:53 pm | Comment

“Incomes in China have grown faster than any other nation’s…”
—umm, what does that have to do with the price of tea in China, dude? Stay on topic, will you? We’re talking about how the CCP treats her athletes. No idea what you’re talking about, but as usual, it seems to have nothing to do with the thread itself.

“Do you think life is a cakewalk for the typical person in China?”
—ditto to above. But also as usual, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth or whatever it is people like you CCP apologists talk with. One second, income in China is growing faster than weeds…but the next second, life is no cakewalk. Still not sure what that has to do with how the CCP uses and abuses her athletes, but you do whatever it is that you people gotta do.

And seriously, what does Jamaica and India have to do with how the CCP treats CHinese athletes in China? Man, the obfuscation from garden-variety CCP apologists can be staggering.

It gets better. In #16, you talk about “the 30-70% of people who are starving”. So Mike shows you the numbers on “starvation”. Then, in your sheer brilliance, you come up with “Deaths from starvation =/= deaths from malnutrition”. Well sweet bejesus, pea-brain, are you talking “starvation”, or are you talking “malnutrition”. If you wanted to talk about malnutrition, then why bring up starvation in #16? If you wanted to talk about starvation as it appeared in #16, why change the metric all of a sudden after Mike slammed the door in your proverbially stupid face? Paris Hilton changes sex partners less often than folks like you try to change the topic of discussion.

You are a good example of why CCP apologists are good for a laugh, but not for much else.

August 24, 2011 @ 3:02 pm | Comment

FOARP
which since you originally said that in both Jamaicans and Indians are starving because of them

No, I said they don’t have their priorities straight. I didn’t say Usain Bolt was eating all of Jamaica’s food and spreading all of Jamaica’s diseases.

Straw man.

SK Cheung
No idea as usual

Yes, it does. China’s way of training athletes is cost effective. If you want results, you have to pay for them. If China won no medals you’d all be sneering about how China can’t win any medals with “1.3 billion people” as usual, so don’t act like you are interested in the welfare of the athletes much less any Chinese citizen.

One second, income in China is growing faster than weeds…but the next second, life is no cakewalk.

You obviously have never taken any math beyond a grade school level. These statements do not contradict each other in the slightest.

And seriously, what does Jamaica and India have to do with how the CCP treats CHinese athletes in China? Man, the obfuscation from garden-variety CCP apologists can be staggering.

Since you need everything spelled out for you: China’s way produces results. Be it medal counts or GDP or wealth accumulation or patent output or wealth inequality. They are cost-effective and produce results.

Cherry-picking and whining like a little girl doesn’t help your case at all. As China develops athletes will have more resources to spend on training, and motivators with real monetary value are made more available. They’re not like rich brats in the developed world who get tens of millions handed to them for 30 second commercials.

So Mike shows you the numbers on “starvation”. Then, in your sheer brilliance, you come up with “Deaths from starvation =/= deaths from malnutrition”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starvation

Starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient and energy intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition.

You obviously are not involved with anything that requires logic on a day to day basis.

All starvation deaths are classified under malnutrition.
Not all malnutrition deaths are “literally” starvation.

It stands to reason that the 4,800 deaths classified as “starvation” in India are a separate class as malnutrition deaths. I used the term literally, and you got confused because I then offered the medical definitions. Don’t worry Cheungsie, if you truly apply yourself you will eventually know 1/20th of what I do.

You are a good example of why CCP apologists are good for a laugh, but not for much else.

You are a good example of why CIA sponsored propagandists with worthless liberal arts degree are good for laugh, but not much else.

August 25, 2011 @ 12:35 am | Comment

FOARP
which since you originally said that in both Jamaicans and Indians are starving because of them

No, I said they don’t have their priorities straight. I didn’t say Usain Bolt was eating all of Jamaica’s food and spreading all of Jamaica’s diseases.

Straw man.

SK Cheung
No idea as usual

Yes, it does. China’s way of training athletes is cost effective. If you want results, you have to pay for them. If China won no medals you’d all be sneering about how China can’t win any medals with “1.3 billion people” as usual, so don’t act like you are interested in the welfare of the athletes much less any Chinese citizen.

One second, income in China is growing faster than weeds…but the next second, life is no cakewalk.

You obviously have never taken any math beyond a grade school level. These statements do not contradict each other in the slightest.

And seriously, what does Jamaica and India have to do with how the CCP treats CHinese athletes in China? Man, the obfuscation from garden-variety CCP apologists can be staggering.

Since you need everything spelled out for you: China’s way produces results. Be it medal counts or GDP or wealth accumulation or patent output or wealth inequality. They are cost-effective and produce results.

Cherry-picking and whining like a little girl doesn’t help your case at all. As China develops athletes will have more resources to spend on training, and motivators with real monetary value are made more available. They’re not like rich brats in the developed world who get tens of millions handed to them for 30 second commercials.

So Mike shows you the numbers on “starvation”. Then, in your sheer brilliance, you come up with “Deaths from starvation =/= deaths from malnutrition”.

Wikipedia Starvation

Starvation is a severe reduction in vitamin, nutrient and energy intake. It is the most extreme form of malnutrition.

You obviously are not involved with anything that requires logic on a day to day basis.

All starvation deaths are classified under malnutrition.
Not all malnutrition deaths are “literally” starvation.

It stands to reason that the 4,800 deaths classified as “starvation” in India are a separate class as malnutrition deaths. I used the term literally, and you got confused because I then offered the medical definitions. Don’t worry Cheungsie, if you truly apply yourself you will eventually know 1/20th of what I do.

You are a good example of why CCP apologists are good for a laugh, but not for much else.

You are a good example of why CIA sponsored propagandists with worthless liberal arts degree are good for laugh, but not much else.

August 25, 2011 @ 12:35 am | Comment

Looking at this map http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Death_rate_world_map_CIA_2009.PNG India and China are about the same wrt to dying (this is the crude death rate). Both are also about the same as the US. We Europeans die in larger numbers :-) Maybe we’re all starving there….or is it malnutrition? Or some other parameter?

“Do you think life is a cakewalk for the typical person in China?”
Maybe the money saved by not rigourously training athletes in China would pay for an improvement on that front?

August 25, 2011 @ 6:41 am | Comment

“China’s way of training athletes is cost effective”
—then isn’t it interesting that some of those very same athletes are starting to resist the treatment they get as part of that “cost-effectiveness”.

“If you want results, you have to pay for them.”
—sure. But what I said was “Stay on topic, will you? We’re talking about how the CCP treats her athletes.” Clearly, staying on topic is not in your capacity. China will pay for results. But like the example of the former medallist who is now pan-handling on Beijing streets, the CCP isn’t interested in much else. And beating teenage basketball players is apparently part and parcel of paying for that cost effectiveness. How nice.

“so don’t act like you are interested in the welfare of the athletes much less any Chinese citizen.”
—funny, I would’ve said the same thing about you…except you don’t even try to be interested in the welfare of the athletes. And you care enough about Chinese citizens to make sure that you’re not one of them.

“These statements do not contradict each other in the slightest.”
—ahh, the selective reading continues. It seems that is one of your only meager talents. Of course, you ignore the sentence right afterwards (“Still not sure what that has to do with how the CCP uses and abuses her athletes”). Not surprisingly, that remains unanswered. Yours statements are not necessarily contradictory, but they sure are irrelevant to the topic. Talking about irrelevant things is another one of your meager talents.

“They are cost-effective and produce results.”
—so that makes it ok to beat teenage basketball players, and to leave people to their own devices (like begging) after they’ve outlived their competitive usefulness, despite the fact that the state compelled them to train in their sport while forgoing the opportunity to acquire other skills they might need after their career is over. Once again, how nice.

“As China develops athletes will have more resources to spend on training, and motivators with real monetary value are made more available.”
—umm, she already spends plenty on that. It’s the other aspects of an athlete’s life that is neglected. If it were up to you, it would remain that way. Once again, how nice.

“All starvation deaths are classified under malnutrition.
Not all malnutrition deaths are “literally” starvation.”
—wow, you are a real pro at wikipedia. Another one of your talents, I see. Of course, addressing questions is not. Why bring up “starvation” in #16 if you apparently wanted to talk about “malnutrition”? Here’s a hint: mean what you say, and say what you mean. That’s advice that even works for a CCP apologist…in fact, that is probably advice most suitable for a CCP apologist. You’re welcome.

“you will eventually know 1/20th of what I do.”
—thanks for the offer. But knowing what a CCP apologist knows if of no use nor interest to me. I’ll leave that kind of activity to deserving folks like you. But I see that you are very talented at taking other people’s sentences, and switching a few words here and there. Very original…and creative. Man, you CCP apologist types do have many…umm….talents.

Hey, do you still remember the topic of the thread? I do. You probably don’t, because as usual, your obfuscations by necessity lead you everywhere except back to the topic itself.

August 26, 2011 @ 1:13 am | Comment

“Cheungsie” wins this round. What IS your problem, Merp? I’ve never seen an honest, cogent argument from you on any subject in several years.

August 26, 2011 @ 3:35 am | Comment

Got to think too – for what one pays a top flight athlete, how much return does one get from that investment? I dare say, to carry on Merp’s fatuous argument, that the returns from Bolt and Tendulkar feed many more people than the initial investment would.
If not, why then is China following the old East German model for athletics training? Sadism does spring to mind but I think it is more to do with succeeding at all costs for the glory and the returns said glory will bring. Or is Merpy Monster actually, in a roundabout way agreeing that the treatment of Chinese athletes is inhumane?

August 26, 2011 @ 5:33 am | Comment

To Mike,
you can’t put a price on attaining glory for the motherland. Well, not a monetary price anyway. A human price, one can perhaps surmise…so long as one isn’t a CCP apologist like what’shisface.

August 26, 2011 @ 11:45 am | Comment

To Richard:
completely O/T, but apparently there is a link on Shanghaiist that refers to a CCP government documentary on CCTV 7 wherein government hacking software is discussed, with an interesting list of “targets”. Kinda torpedoes the constant CCP claims that they don’t engage in that sort of thing. LOL.

August 26, 2011 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

@S.K.Cheung. Picking up on your point, this could be a two way street and you don’t need great skills.

Glass Houses and Chinese Culture…Cyber Stuff

Try the embedded link in the below and you relax a bit.
http://kingtubbysblog.blogspot.com/2011/04/glass-houses-and-chinese-culturecyber.html

August 26, 2011 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

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