Chinese Medalists Wear Mao Pins, Then Edit Them Out of Photo Following Controversy

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Chinese Medalists Wear Mao Pins

Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi with Mao pins airbrushed out

A Chinese Olympic gold medalist posted a social media photo of her and her partner standing on the podium, but something that had been on their jackets went missing: badges depicting the former Communist leader Mao Zedong. 

Bao Shanju, 23, and Zhong Tianshi, 30, who won gold in the women’s team sprint track cycling, made international headlines for wearing the Mao badges during the award ceremony on Monday. Advertisement

Their act was a potential breach of Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which bans all kinds of political demonstration on the podium. The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday said it was waiting for the Chinese Olympic authority to deliver a report on the incident, adding that the Chinese committee had promised the gesture would not be repeated. 

When Zhong, one of the medalists, shared a photo of the pair receiving their award on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo later that day, the Mao badges were missing from their jackets.

The Mao pins are missing from the photo shared by one of the medalists, Zhong Tianshi.

“Awesome! How come the badges on your chests are gone?” said the top-voted comment under the post. 

Many suspect the photo was digitally altered.

“What a pity the badges on their chests were ruthlessly Photoshopped away,” another comment said. “Many people may not know that the two heroes wore a great man’s badges during the award ceremony.”

The red-and-gold badges were commonly worn during the strongman rule of the former leader. Few people wear them in today’s China, but they have continued to serve as a reminder of the personality cult around Mao and his controversial legacy, including the Cultural Revolution. 

It’s not clear if it was the athletes’ decision to wear the badges. A few official social media accounts, including one managed by the Communist Youth League in Mao’s birthplace of Hunan province, have praised the medalists for wearing the badges. Most state media outlets have kept quiet on the incident.

State broadcaster CCTV also edited out the Mao badges from the athletes’ jackets when replaying the medal ceremony on Tuesday night, according to the South China Morning Post.

The worship of Mao and other Communist revolutionary leaders has made a comeback in recent years as the Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping strengthened ideological control and stepped up promoting the official version of the party’s history. This year, the party conducted a massive propaganda campaign to celebrate its 100th anniversary.    Advertisement

Mao and his anti-capitalist thought have also won some hardcore fans among the young generation, who perceive China’s growing inequality as a problem caused by its liberalized economic policies, and have advocated for a Maoist-style crackdown on business elites. 

In June, China’s badminton gold medalist, 23-year-old Chen Yufei, shared on social media a photo of herself standing in front of a Chairman Mao statue, and another one showing Mao badges and a book about the leader’s life. 

Wu Qiang, a Beijing-based political commentator, said the athletes’ badges reflected a general revival of ideological symbols across the Chinese society. More bureaucrats are wearing badges of Communist Party emblems these days, while rural families often display posters bearing images of Mao and Xi. 

The Chinese team had likely approved the badges, Wu said, noting its strict management of athletes. But facing an IOC inquiry, authorities might be downplaying the incident to avoid further controversy, he said. World News

The IOC also launched an investigation after shot put silver medalist Raven Saunders had raised her arms in an X above her head on the podium on Sunday, but suspended the probe after Saunders’ mother died on Tuesday. Saunders said the gesture was to express her support for the oppressed. 

On Sunday, U.S. fencer Race Imboden wore a black X symbol on his hand while receiving a bronze medal in the men’s foil team event, which he later said was a demonstration against the Olympic protest ban

On the Chinese internet, Mao’s supporters said they were frustrated that the badges had been quietly wiped out. Some commentators believe the pair received less coverage than other medalists due to the badges. 

“You make us proud,” a Weibo user commented on the cyclist Zhong’s page. “You are not only athletes, but also real proletariats.”

Tony Simon

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