Who are you calling medal machines?

FV1’s Jiaqi Song asks if China really deserved the insults it received from the British media during the Olympics

This summer all eyes were focused on the Olympic Games in London, bringing many different countries together in mutual respect and understanding. But then a row over 16-year-old Ye Shiwen’s record-breaking swim quickly brought the West’s true feelings towards China to the surface as accusations of sinister practices and Olympic ‘medal machines’ were aired all over the British media.

As a Chinese young person living in London, I found these accusations confusing and upsetting. The media seemed to be saying that Chinese athletes are like robots because they are trained to win from a very young age and so lack any dignity and humanity. But is that really true? 

There is no doubt that China has extremely strict training standards that push its athletes to the limit. But this is because we are an incredibly hard-working nation. We want to win - and not just in the Olympics!

From an early age we are taught to work very hard in China. My experience at school is no doubt extremely different to any of the young people who grow up in the UK. Throughout my teenage years, I was expected to get up at 6 o'clock, do morning exercise for half an hour then begin studying from 7.30am. I'd study all day until 10.30pm and go to bed exhausted. All the other teenagers I knew then had the same daily routine as me and, in the final year, we had to attend school six and half days’ a week!

When many British young people are discovering alcohol and partying, Chinese students have little time to play and a mountain of homework to do. The teachers tell students that time is like water in a sponge: as long as you squeeze it, the water can always come out. In other words, we can always work even harder!

You might think our life of hard work sounds like torture, but actually it helps us to develop qualities like dedication, self-discipline, inner-strength and responsibility, and it helps us to see how smart we can be when we really try. And when we go to university at around 18 years old, our study time is greatly reduced and we have more time for social activities.

Academic Adviser at Hertfordshire Business School in the University of Hertfordshire, Dr Xiangping Du, shared with me her thoughts on the difference between Chinese and British students. She says that although Chinese students do very well academically, they rarely take the initiative to ask questions in class or to be proactively involved with other nationalities, preferring instead to eat and socialise in their own groups. They are also more polite. She said we can learn from British students, who are generally more individualist and independent which makes them more sociable and likely to ask questions.

But she also encouraged British students to get to know the Mandarin language and Chinese culture and customs as it could really benefit them. She said that up until the 2008 Olympics, which was hosted by China, many British people still thought of China as a country where people still predominantly travelled by bicycles. The Olympics there showed the rest of the world how dramatically China has developed over the last few decades - and is continuing to develop.

So who’s way is best? Well, living in the UK is certainly teaching me to be more sociable and confident. But, then again, China is now the second biggest economy in the world, so our hard work is certainly paying off! So perhaps rather than compare, we should just accept that there are differences we can learn from each other. After all, isn’t this the true Olympic spirit?


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