Since earning a world record in the 400m individual medley, China’s swimmer Ye Shiwen has been dogged by implications of doping, despite a lack of evidence.
Within China, the implication has been regarded as an attack by foreign media on the country’s achievements, at a time when xenophobic sentiment in China is already high.
The 16 year-old immediately came under question from BBC commentator Clare Balding.
Executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association, John Leonard, described Ye’s performance as “outrageous”, “disturbing” and “impossible”. “The Chinese have a doping history”, he said. “That is just history. That’s fact.”
The probing has unleashed a wave of furious and passionate indignation within China. “The Western media have always been arrogant and suspicious of Chinese people,” Ye’s father said to Chinese news portal Tencent.
China’s state-run media outlets have followed suit by attacking Western media for unfair bias and cynicism towards a Chinese swimmer’s success.
On Weibo, which is China’s equivalent of Twitter, the solidarity has manifested itself into a meme. “Ye Shiwen = Yes she wins,” states the webpage. Other online users have attacked perceived Western jealousy and bias against Chinese athletes, and have demanded an apology from Leonard.
Lee Kaifu, the former president of Google China, went so far as to post Mr. Leonard’s home address to his 15 million followers. He later deleted the post and apologised.
This incident follows several months of rising anti-foreigner sentiment in China, and exposes a mutual cynicism and lack of trust between China and the West.
In early May, online video footage of a British man allegedly assaulting a Chinese woman, and another video of a Russian cellist cursing a Chinese woman on a train, generated a wave of anti-foreign sentiment from China’s online community.
On May 15, the Chinese government announced a 100-day crackdown on “illegal foreigners” in Beijing involving random spot-checks. The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm on Weibo. CCTV host Yan Rui further stirred tension by commenting on Weibo that China should kick out “foreign trash”.
Foreign students living in China have reported a palpable increase in hostility from isolated groups and individuals. An exceptional number of violent incidents between Chinese and foreigners took place in Beijing over the summer.
With slowing economic growth, rising social tension and a few awkward international incidents, some have speculated that the rising xenophobia has been instigated by the Chinese government, which is seeking to cement control before the Communist Party power transition at the end of this year.
China has grappled with the uneasy tension between Western influence, and a rising, somewhat jingoistic, nationalism. The relationship may be taking an ugly turn, and Western media’s commotion over China’s new superstar has fanned the flames of anti-foreign sentiment in China.