The Olympics are a sweet and complex homecoming for the Chinese diaspora

Beijing (AP) — When Madison Chock looks out of the Chinese capital here, the US Olympic ice dancers can get a glimpse of themselves.

“Every time I get on the bus, I look at the city and study, and I just imagine that my roots are here. My ancestors are here,” said his father, a Polynesian Hawaiian, from China. Chock, who has a family in the countryside, says. “And being in the same land where your ancestors grew up and spent their lives is, in a sense, a very cool sense of belonging.”

“It’s really special, and China has a really special place in my heart,” she adds.

At the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday, one of the world’s largest diasporas will return home. Often sweet and sometimes complex, it always reflects who they are, where they came from, and the very spirit of the Olympics.

Modern overseas Chinese date back to the 16th century, says Richard T. Chu, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Its members are highly educated, internationally hired undesired women during the government’s one-child policy, who have moved from the colonial economy and the driving force of the land and sea labor force for greater opportunities for prosperity. It even extended to babies.

“China’s diaspora is really very diverse and maintains its Chinese character,” says Chu. “Each country has a unique history, so there is more than one type of identity in China.”

The issue of Chinese identity is a particularly delicate issue for athletes with roots in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Karen Chen, a U.S. female singles figure skater whose parents emigrated from Taiwan, said she identified her as both Taiwanese and Chinese and used those labels roughly interchangeably. increase.

Taiwan, which split from the mainland after the 1949 civil war that pushed the current Chinese government to power, is an island of 24 million people off the east coast of China. It works in many ways like a country with its own government and army. However, China claims Taiwan as its territory, and only 14 countries recognize Taiwan as a country. Most countries in the world, including the United States, have official ties with China instead.

Chen’s self-identification is not uncommon among Taiwanese, as many trace their heritage back to mainland China. According to an annual survey by the National Chengchi University in Taipei, about 32% of the islanders recognize that they are both Chinese and Taiwanese.

While in Beijing, she promises to speak as much Mandarin as possible and is proud to nod to her heritage on the ice.

“My free program is a very famous and classic piece from China,’Butterfly Lovers and the Blessing Concerto’ … it’s like the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet,” Karen Chen said. say. “It definitely has to do with my career.”

Many Chinese athletes here at the Beijing Games represent many variations of the diaspora. Others are interracial and multicultural.

And even similar backgrounds can diverge on the Olympic stage. For example, Nathan Chen and Eileen Gu are two superstar athletes who stand before the Winter Olympics. Both were born and raised in the United States by Chinese immigrants and have memories of spending time in their homeland, but Chen is competing for the US team as a medal candidate in men’s singles figure skating. Gu is China.

Gu frowned to switch to the Chinese team after training with the US team, but how she speaks fluent Mandarin and travels to China with her mother every year from San Francisco. We are clearly looking at what we define as.

“When I’m in China, I’m Chinese,” Gu told the Olympic channel in 2020. “When I’m in America, I’m American.”

For some, the Olympic Games in Beijing are the first time they have set foot in China and are an unforgettable professional achievement in addition to a very personal milestone.

That’s the case with US female singles figure skater Alysa Liu, whose father Arthur Liu is also anxious to visit China. Elder Liu left his homeland as a political refugee in his twenties after protesting the Communist Party government after the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989.

“I want to go to the tournament and return to China to visit my hometown,” says Arthur Liu in a telephone interview from his home in California. “I want to go back to the village where I grew up and go to the high school I attended and the university I attended. I want to go eat spicy noodles by the side of the street.”

Arthur Liu eventually settled in the Bay Area and attended law school to raise one of America’s most promising athletes. Now his Chinese-American daughter is ready to make her Olympic debut at the Women’s Singles Tournament. He has no worries about her participation in the Chinese Olympics and no grudge against his homeland, which he still loves.

Like many interracial children, Alyssa Riu wonders why she didn’t look like her parents, even though she always identified her as ethnically Chinese. thought. His wife, who was also Chinese like Arthur Liu, decided to give birth by surrogacy because Arthur Liu regarded himself as a citizen of the world and wanted an interracial child. Asked for a white egg donor.

In a culture that can be xenophobic, Arthur Liu says her daughter is warmly accepted in her home country as Chinese fans and the media consider Alyssa Riu to be one of them. say.

“I’m very happy that the Chinese people welcome her and appreciate her,” says Arthur Liu.

The Olympics are also the first time Josh Hossan, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Canadian ice hockey player, has visited China.

His paternal great-grandfather moved from mainland China to modern Hong Kong for a business opportunity and fell in love during his vacation in Jamaica. This has reduced the Canadian hockey team to one-eighth that of the Chinese. From the perspective of his mother, Hosan’s heritage is rooted in European, South American and Jewish culture. His representation of Canada as a “melting pot poster boy” is a testament to how inclusive the spirit of the Olympics has become.

“It shows how far we have come as a society. These different faces represent the homes of all,” says Hosan. “100 years ago, we didn’t see this kind of diversity in each country as we do now. It’s a sign of hope and progress.”


Seattle-based AP journalist Sally Ho is assigned to the Beijing Olympics, which covers figure skating. Follow her on Twitter at