Chinese Olympic Champion Insulted on State Television

The shot-putter Gong Lijiao was confronted with sexist slogans and a traditional image of women on Chinese state television. This triggered a wave of indignation.

China’s state television is notorious for its conservative image of women and families. The broadcaster lived up to that reputation on Friday in an interview with Olympic shot put champion Gong Lijiao. Gong had to be told by a young female reporter that she looked like a man-woman. What she planned to do in her later life as a woman, she was asked. “As a woman?” replied Gong in surprise. The reporter said, “I mean, for shot put you are a man-woman, now you can be yourself.”

If she had a boyfriend, the cameraman wanted to know, if she wanted to get married and have children. And whether she would break his arm in an arm-wrestling match. Up to that point, Gong Lijiao had still played along and gently contradicted, with sentences like, “In my heart, I’m a woman.” On the subject of arm wrestling, the 32-year-old athlete finally dropped out.

In a commentary, The Paper accused the reporter of being “trapped in the value system of a patriarchal society.” Instead of appreciating Gong’s athletic achievements, her willpower, and her willingness to sacrifice, she had questioned her about how troublesome washerwomen would do it. “No matter what you do and how much you achieve for your country, if you are a woman, marriage is your ultimate goal in life,” the commentator wrote.

The social pressure to marry and have children is criticized by many women in China. As a result, posts about the interview under the hashtag “Is marriage the only topic to talk about with women?” have been viewed more than 300 million times. A blogger for the website Vision accused the reporter of insinuating that Gong “thinks it’s hard for her to get married because she doesn’t conform to the traditional ideas of a woman. But in fact, there are few men who deserve Olympic champion Gong as a wife.”

The shot-putter then spread the comment herself, adding, “That’s exactly what I wanted to say. Thank you.” Others thanked the country’s female Olympic champions for breaking gender stereotypes. Posts with the hashtag “Olympic Games have corrected my aesthetic standards” have been viewed a good 500 million times on Weibo.