UUntil recently, the American-born freestyle skier Eileen Gu – or Gu Ailing as she is known in China – was one of the growing number of Chinese Americans who squandered the two countries. They are comfortable working between the two cultures and systems, being proud of their heritage as well as their upbringing.
Gu, now 18, was born in San Francisco to an American father and a Chinese mother. She is a big fan of Chinese dumplings, and every summer she flew back to Beijing to go to cram school for math. “When I’m in China, I’m Chinese, and when I travel to America, I’m American,” she once said.
But as the geopolitical mood between China and America began to shift, Gu was also caught in the middle between nationalism, identity and loyalty on both sides of the Pacific. While she was hailed in China, for which she has won three Olympic medalsshe was condemned by a Fox News analyst as “ungrateful” and said her “reverse migration” was “shameful”.
In 2019, Gu shifted his sports loyalty from the United States to China. She said at the time: “The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mother was born during the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 is a unique opportunity to help promote the sport I love.”
Since the beginning of this year, questions about her citizenship have been repeatedly raised. China does not recognize dual nationals, and according to Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter, Gu must be a Chinese citizen in order to compete for the country. And if that is the case, analysts say, she would not be able to keep a U.S. passport at the same time.
In recent months, as Beijing has doubled its promotion of Chinese identity, it has required its broadcasters to investigate the citizenship of celebrities active on the Chinese mainland. This move has resulted in some high-profile actors giving up their non-Chinese nationalities.
Gu has always avoided the question of her citizenship in public. In response to one Guardianship questions about her criticsshe replied, “I’m an 18-year-old out here living my best life. I do not want to waste my time trying to reassure people who are uneducated and do not experience the gratitude and love I have on a daily basis.”
Her response won her applause on Chinese social media. Nationalists praised Gu for her ability to speak both languages fluently and for showing her excellent intellect so elegantly. The official newspaper China Daily said her response to her critics should be given “full grade”.
In China, Gu is a symbol of national pride and the face of nearly a dozen brands and products. They range from China Mobile and Bank of China to the American brand Victoria’s Secret, which has a great ambition in a giant consumer market. She is also a common name discussed on the social media platform Weibo, with adoring commentators calling her a “female ice-snow goddess”.
But despite the outpouring of admiration in China, Gu is also going on a fine line, and her future remains uncertain in the country she now represents. Last week, Hu Xijin, a recently retired editor-in-chief of the influential nationalist tabloid Global Times, warned Chinese media to downplay their praise of Gu because it was still unclear which country she would like to be associated with when she was older.
“China’s national honor and credibility should not be jeopardized in the case of Gu Ailing,” Hu wrote, adding that although she saw herself as Chinese and American, reality may not turn out to be what she wanted as bilateral relations. between China and the United States continued to deteriorate.
Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, agreed. Daly said the House warning represented a growing mindset in both China and the United States that it was more and more common for those with dual inheritance to feel pressured to take a side.
“For many years, a large number of Chinese Americans have been free to move back and forth between both countries, benefiting from both and both without consequences,” Daly said. “But the earth has moved under their feet.”
Daly said the Gus saga could have been a simple story, as the design of the bilateral relations was dominated by “engagement”: an American athlete who decided to move to China and won Olympic medals. But instead, the issue of her citizenship has become a sensitive issue in the current geopolitical climate. “And Gus’ silence aroused suspicion,” Daly said.
“This Olympics should have put the contribution of Sino-American athletes like Gu under the spotlight – to highlight their role as a bridge to both nations, but unfortunately it has proven to be different.”