Hua Chunying, the most senior spokesperson at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, applauded American gymnast Simone Biles on Thursday in a Twitter post, apparently for showing grace to Chinese competitor Guan Chenchen.
Hua’s statement read, “Proud of you. TRUE #Olympic spirit,” and showed two photos of Biles smiling and embracing a gymnast who appeared to be Guan (the photos do not show the girl from the front, so her face is not visible). As the photo clearly showed Biles and not the other gymnast, it appeared to be a message to the American. The photo appeared to be from when both gymnasts competed against each other this week in the balance beam final, where Chen won the gold; Biles took home the bronze medal.
— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) August 5, 2021
Hua regularly publishes Chinese propaganda on Twitter despite Beijing banning residents from using the American social media platform. The Communist Party notably allows exceptions for high-ranking state propagandists and Twitter allows them to contribute to the site.
Hua’s tweet followed the publication of an article in the Global Times, a Chinese government propaganda outlet, on Wednesday praising another American Olympian gymnast, Sunisa Lee, for embracing Guan after the latter won her gold medal.
“Guan’s achievement was a moment of pride for many Chinese, but something else on the sidelines of the completion also caught many people’s attention, the warm support shown to Guan by 18-year-old US gymnast Sunisa Lee,” the Times noted. Lee won the gold medal in the gymnastics all-around competition for individuals prior to the beginning of individual event contests, a fact omitted from the Times write-up.
“As cameras recorded Guan’s performance, sharp-eyed viewers noticed that every time the Chinese gymnast successfully completed a move on the beam, Lee, very noticeable in the background due to her red coat, would jump and cheer along with Guan’s teammates and coaches,” the Times noted. “Her sincere and joyous reaction touched viewers around the world.”
The editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, appeared to reinforce Hua’s message using Biles’ photo with his own, again showcasing Biles and Guan.
“Pictures of US gymnasts congratulating Chinese gold medalist spread widely among Chinese netizens,” Hu wrote. “US athletes are lovely. American people are lovely.”
Pictures of US gymnasts congratulating Chinese gold medalist spread widely among Chinese netizens. US athletes are lovely. American people are lovely. pic.twitter.com/Qmn6y2ubf1
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) August 5, 2021
The Global Times has repeatedly published bigoted articles against Americans, referring to the United States as a “primitive society,” stating that Anglo-Saxons generally are genocidal because of their DNA, and generally referring to the country as “selfish” and racist.
The apparent praise for Biles from the Chinese Foreign Ministry is particularly notable given the tremendous amount of global attention to her journey at the Summer Olympics, defined by struggles with mental health and a decision to abstain from competing in several events — including the prestigious individual all-around competition — in which she had previously scheduled herself to participate. Biles explained her decision as one about mental health but made out of concern that a poor state of being could result in significant physical injury given the nature of gymnastics competition.
“I didn’t want to go out and do something stupid and get hurt … At the end of the day we don’t want to be carried out of there on a stretcher,” Biles told reporters last week.
Biles ultimately returned this week to compete on the balance beam, where she won bronze.
“I was just happy to be able to perform regardless of the outcome. I did it for me and I was proud of myself for being able to compete one more time,” Biles said following her win. “Just to have one more opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games meant the world. Training for five years and then coming here, and then kind of being triggered and not being able to do anything, it wasn’t fun.”
Biles’ departure from the all-around competition left Lee as the American hope in that contest; Lee delivered the gold. Lee also came home with a bronze medal in the uneven bars competition and a silver medal for her participation in the team all-around contest.
In contrast with its coverage of the Americans, Chinese state media has repeatedly attacked other athletes for various alleged transgressions. On Wednesday, the Global Times published a screed attacking Australian athletes as “disgraceful” for allegedly celebrating their victories prior to their departure from Tokyo, reportedly leaving their Olympic village rooms messy and, in at least one reported case, breaking a cardboard bed. The newspaper alleged that the true criticism came not from its own writers, but from anonymous “netizens” on Chinese social media. The Communist Party heavily censors content on the nation’s social media platforms and regulates messages to ensure they align with the Party’s agenda.
Similarly, the Times attacked the judges of one of the men’s gymnastics competitions for issuing the gold medal to Japanese athlete Hashimoto Daiki, who was competing against Chinese gymnast Xiao Ruoteng.
“The low score given to Xiao sparked a wave of dissatisfaction among Chinese netizens and even celebrities … who they felt clearly outperformed the Japanese competition. According to reports, the final scores even elicited boos from the media present within the Ariake arena,” the newspaper claimed.
Xiao himself spoke out against the belligerent reaction of Chinese propaganda arms and “netizens,” stating that he did not feel his score was unfair and hoped people would not “attack other athletes who have fought hard for their goals.
As of Thursday, the U.S. is leading the global medal count with 90 medals to China’s 74. China has won the most gold medals with 34 to America’s 29.