The Plight of the Chinese Athlete

The New York Times introduces us to another, less conspicuous victim of China’s terminal assaults on basic freedoms: the Chinese athlete.

It’s what you’d expect from a country so given to nationalistic excesses. China pigeonholes its athletes at an early age, herds them into “sports schools,” and doesn’t brook any wavering from the elected path. Chinese athletes, particularly those who realize any measure of success, aren’t allowed much of a life outside of sport. Their existence becomes one marked by dolor and loneliness. That’s to say nothing of the fact that they don’t get to enjoy the material spoils that competitors in more liberalized nations take for granted.

If you’re a decorated canoeist like Yang Wejun, the focus of the Times piece, then you receive a modest stipend of less than $250 U.S. per month, you forfeit most of your endorsement earnings to Communist Party officials, and you’re forced to continue competing despite your wishes, your age, and your worsening case of hepatitis.

All of it calls to mind other exploited vessels of second-hand glory–the Aryan Olympians so dear to Hitler, the soccer players terrorized by Uday and Qusay Hussein, and countless others whose skills were co-opted by the morally foul regimes of history.

Certainly, the Chinese government commits far more serious crimes than denying their athletes any sense of autonomy. Still, in the coming months let’s be mindful of these underreported human costs as the leaders of the Peoples’ Republic savor their plunders.


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