So far, Team China has got off to a strong start, to the cheers of millions of fans online.
On Saturday, Chinese social media exploded in euphoria when shooter Yang Qian won the first gold of the Tokyo Games in the women’s 10-meter air rifle. The 21-year-old also set a new Olympic record with a 251.8 final score.
As of Monday morning, China has bagged six gold medals — three in weightlifting, one in fencing and one in diving in addition to Yang’s air rifle gold. That’s enough to top the medal table, followed by Japan and the United States.
Many of the early sports — such as shooting, diving and weightlifting — are among China’s stronger pursuits, and the Chinese team is expected to face a greater degree of competition in the days ahead.
Beijing has long regarded Olympic performance as a symbol of national strength, with Chinese athletes — many of whom are selected at an extremely young age — undergoing physically grueling regimes at state-backed institutes.
Since the 1990s, China has become one of the most competitive nations in the Olympics. In 2008, it topped the gold medal table at the Beijing Games, surpassing the US for the first time, while America has since reclaimed top spot at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Amid growing political and economic rivalry between China and the US, the Tokyo Games will inevitably be seen by some as another arena in their great power competition.
On Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter, the Tokyo Games has been among the top trending topics since Friday evening. While many are rightfully proud of the Chinese team’s achievements, the nationalist sentiment has at times been more aggressive.
In other cases, the nationalist sentiment has gone too far even for Chinese censors. On Saturday, Yang was briefly attacked by some online nationalists and told to “get out of China” for having previously shown off her impressive collection of Nike sneakers on Weibo.
Nike, along with H&M and other big Western apparel brands faced calls for boycott in China in March, owing to their stand against the alleged use of forced labor to produce cotton in Xinjiang. But Yang’s photos of her Nike collection were posted in December last year, months before the brand landed itself in controversy. Other users quickly…