By David Bandurski — When China’s star hurdler, Liu Xiang (刘翔), withdrew from Olympic competition on Monday due to an injury, he quickly drew the sympathy of China’s top leaders. Xi Jinping (习近平), one of China’s newest politburo members, reportedly sent his regards within hours. But not all Chinese were sympathetic.
Liu Xiang had long been hyped as one of China’s grandest Olympic hopes, a symbol of its rise on the global scene, of its national health and strength. The number pinned to his shirt on the day of competition seemed to say it all: “1356.” Liu represented a proud population of 1.3 billion people, and 56 officially recognized ethnic minorities.


[ABOVE: Screenshot of coverage of the Liu Xiang story, photo taken during his Monday warm-up]

For some, Liu’s surprising withdrawal from competition was a deep betrayal. Others suspected foul play, a greedy commercial conspiracy to cover up his injuries. The denunciations were so vocal, in fact, that propaganda officials reportedly moved to limit media coverage of the circumstances surrounding Liu’s decision not to compete.
With media prevented from prying deeper into Liu Xiang’s failure to compete, this story should fade over the next week. But it has so far provided an excellent occasion for reflection in China on the meaning and spirit of the Olympic Games.
Writing in Shanghai’s Oriental Morning Post, columnist Li Chengpeng (李承鹏) blamed China’s national sports system for encouraging a narrow and dehumanizing attitude toward athletic competition.
The editorial, “Liu Xiang Did Not Have Malice Aforethought,” concludes:

I’ve never been very satisfied with our current athletics system [in China], and I think the commotion that has followed Liu Xiang’s withdrawal from competition is a natural result of that system. The system’s way of responding to Liu Xiang’s situation was not sufficiently international in its outlook (weeping at a news conference does not help Liu Xiang, nor will it allay people’s anger). But I now understand that this kind of system has gotten into everyone’s nerves too. You spectators [critical of Liu] don’t see competitors as people, and you don’t want to look at Liu Xiang or Zhang Xiang or Li Xiang or Jian Xiang as human beings.
All of you [who criticize Liu], you’d rather die than think. If we used our heels to cogitate, none of you would ever have problems with your Achilles tendons.
Liu Xiang’s withdrawal from competition is a defeat for the 110-meter hurdles, but it is a victory for the more humanistic values of the Olympics and for the professional understanding [of athletics]. Liu Xiang alone has stabbed the peripheral nerve of some Chinese people, letting them know that the first matter in sports is the human being, and not the gold medal.

Earlier this week, QQ set up its own platform through which readers could throw in their two cents over Liu Xiang’s withdrawal. The editorial lean of the editors was crystal clear — the feature page was titled, “Do We Love Liu Xiang, Or Do We Love Gold?”

When Liu Xiang withdrew from competition it caused a huge commotion – this or that political or commercial “conspiracy theory” came out, and there was also some reflection on whether so much bar was set way to high for Liu Xiang to begin with. Of course, the dominant feeling is admiration and encouragement for this hero . . . But aside from these voices there is denunciation and reprimand. This was especially true when the news [of Liu’s withdrawal] first came out, when these voices had the upper hand.
We prefer to think that as people calm down these voices will noticeably become the minority. But the fact is that right now in many of the Web comments pasted below news articles about Liu Xiang’s withdrawal from competition, one can glimpse just how distorted are the thoughts and mental attitudes of some people in our country … [Have your say]


Some readers comments follow:

[From Shenyang]
It’s a disgrace to the nation for him to get all suited up and not compete!!!
[From Gansu Province]
I can’t believe this. All of you people criticizing Liu Xiang, you make me think of the audiences in the Roman amphitheater – the nobles up in the stands and the slaves down in the arena. When Liu Xiang broke the world record everyone build him up so high. And now? He can’t go on and has to pull out of the competition, and right away people say he gave up because he was afraid of losing. Is that not disgusting.
[From Shanxi]
To be honest, when I saw Liu Xiang’s back leaving the field, I went from astonishment to fury. What is this behavior of yours? Without a sound you leave tens of thousands of fans. Do you even know how cold you’ve made the hearts of the Chinese people? Do you know that 90 percent of the people in the stands were there just to see you?
[From Xinzhou]
Liu Xiang is a model for all of us whether he won a gold medal or not. He has already given us the confidence to hope. He isn’t to blame for his injuries. He himself feels more let down than any of us can imagine. The effort he has made and the pressures he has faced over the last four years are more than most of us could endure. We would encourage him, understand him and believe in him.
[From 122.234.254.*]
If he was suddenly injured then I understand. But if he was injured long ago and it was covered up, then this is an injury inflicted on all of us who bought tickets, and I should criticize Liu Xiang and all of those employees who knew about it. Tickets to see Liu Xiang ran into the thousands. Just think of the insult this is to all of us spectators! Whether he got the gold medal or not is another question altogether.
[From Foshan]
Who here has never made a mistake, or never come on difficulty? Who has never suffered defeat? So is a gold medal more valuable than a person’s life? A leg injury is no small problem and it can be incredibly painful. Yes, Liu Xiang withdrew from competition. But his resolve and refusal to admit defeat is something we should all emulate. Liu Xiang, I’ll always support you!.
[From Zhongshan]
I love Liu Xiang!
[From Wuhan]
Keep it up! . . . I support you, Liu Xiang!
[From Shandong Province]
The media are all talking about the Olympic spirit, but Liu Xiang doesn’t have an ounce of Olympic spirit. Is this a hero? Why should we support him? Without him the Chinese people will have others.
[From 118.74.25.*
Do all of you love gold medals or love Liu Xiang? This question really expresses the problem in the hearts of those who blame Liu. But those of us of decent character with heads on our shoulders don’t think this way.

[In Chinese] “荣誉诚可贵,健康价更高“, Southern Metropolis Daily (main editorial), August 21, 2008
[In Chinese] “刘翔,保住脚是最大的胜利“, Chang Ping (长平), Southern Metropolis Daily, August 21, 2008
[In Chinese] “刘翔身后的团体确实应该道歉“, Yanzhou Metropolis Daily, August 21, 2008
[Posted August 21, 2008, 3:50pm HK]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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