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Canadian swimmer’s success throws spotlight on China’s one-child policy

By Nectar Gan and Steve George, CNN

A gold medal-winning Canadian swimmer has made waves in China for her Chinese heritage, sparking heated discussions over the country’s decades-long one-child policy and gender discrimination.

Margaret MacNeil shot to international fame Monday after winning the women’s 100-meter butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics, setting an Americas continental record at her very first Games.

In China, however, the 21-year-old was drawing wide attention for another reason, as news spread that the Canadian girl who beat China’s top woman swimmer, Zhang Yufei, by 0.05 seconds was actually born in China and adopted as a baby by a Canadian couple.

The subject of MacNeil soon lit up Chinese social media. A hashtag about her victory became the top trending topic on Chinese microblogging site Weibo on Monday morning, and has since drawn nearly 400 million views.

Much of the attention has focused on her Chinese heritage — and reflections over the wider social and political circumstances that led to her adoption by a foreign family.

MacNeil was born in 2000 in Jiujiang, a city on the southern shores of the Yangtze River in China’s Jiangxi province, according to her profile on Team Canada’s official website.

On Chinese social media, many suspected she had been abandoned by her biological parents, a once-common practice under China’s now-scrapped one-child policy.

The stringent policy, in place until 2016, led to female infants being aborted, abandoned and even killed due to a traditional preference for sons among many Chinese families. That has left the country with a deeply skewed sex ratio at birth, and a surplus of more than 30 million men.

Concerned about plunging birth rates, the Chinese government allowed all couples to have two children in 2016. This year, it further relaxed the policy to allow three children.

But for many Chinese internet users, especially women, MacNeil’s victory has served as a vivid reminder of the pernicious legacy of the decades-long policy, and still widespread gender inequality.

According to the US government, more than 84% of the over 82,000 children Americans adopted from China between 1999 and 2019 are girls.

While some online articles and posts have portrayed MacNeil’s Chinese lineage as a case of national pride for China, many were quick to point out that the country should instead draw reflections.

“We lost such a talent owing to the preference of boys to girls, how do you still have the nerve to mention (her Chinese origins),” a comment said.

Others lamented the discrimination against girls in their upbringing, especially in rural China.

“She might not be a talent had she been raised in China. Instead, she might have dropped out of school early to work in the factories,” said another comment.

One viral Weibo post, which said, “Canada has stumbled upon a precious gem” and called for people to help MacNeil search for her birth parents, was met with strong criticism.

“It’s the Canadians who have nurtured her into a precious gem,” said the top comment underneath the post.

After the race on Monday, Zhang, the Chinese swimmer who took silver, said she felt quite close to MacNeil. “I feel that she is a family member,” Zhang was quoted as saying by Reuters.

MacNeil, meanwhile, has stressed that she’s Canadian and has “always grown up Canadian.”

“I was born in China and I was adopted when I was really young, so that’s just as far as my Chinese heritage goes,” MacNeil said at a news conference.

“So it’s just a very small part of my journey to where I am today, and it’s kind of irrelevant when it comes to swimming, and how far my swimming has come.”

Memorial blocked

An attempt to block a makeshift memorial outside of the subway station where 14 passengers died during flash flooding in Zhengzhou has caused outrage online, with people accusing the authorities of trying to downplay the disaster.

More than 70 people died across Henan last week after torrential rains battered the central province, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and causing 81.9 billion yuan (about $12.5 billion) in economic damage.

Coverage of the flooding has focused predominately on the provincial capital Zhengzhou, where passengers aboard the city’s subway system became trapped after floodwaters surged through its network of underground tunnels. The horror of the flooding was captured by numerous videos shared on social media, showing passengers gasping for air in neck-high waters.

In the days following the tragedy, members of the public descended on Shakou Road subway station, laying flowers and lighting candles at the entrance in memory of the passengers who lost their lives.

However, those arriving on Monday found that barriers had been put up overnight, blocking access to the memorial. Though it was unclear why it had been erected, or by whom, images of the fencing drew strong criticism online, with two related hashtags receiving more than 150 million views on Weibo, China’s heavily censored version of Twitter.

“Don’t block the dead’s way home,” one netizen commented. “Grieving should be unconditionally allowed,” another said.

Late on Monday night, some residents tore down parts of the barrier, only for new fencing to be erected again the next morning. Authorities finally relented later on Tuesday afternoon, removing all the barriers and allowing citizens to lay flowers in the open. CNN has reached out to local Henan provincial authorities for comment.

— By CNN Staff

Around Asia

  • The first person to be tried under Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law could now face life in prison after being found guilty on Tuesday of inciting secession and terrorism, in a landmark court ruling that is likely to have profound implications for the city’s legal system.
  • During a keynote speech in Singapore on Tuesday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that China’s claims and actions in the Indo-Pacific threaten the sovereignty of nations around the region.
  • The tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan has vaccinated 90% of its population, becoming a beacon of hope for a region struggling with Covid-19.
  • China is building a second field of missile silos in its western deserts, according to a new study, which researchers say signals a potential expansion of its nuclear arsenal and calls into question Beijing’s commitment to its “minimum deterrence” strategy.

Chinese tech stocks are experiencing a historically awful sell-off

Chinese tech stocks are still struggling to recover from a pummeling on Monday and Tuesday that came as investors reacted to Beijing’s widening crackdown on private enterprise.

In its worst two days on record, Meituan shed more than $62 billion off its market cap after regulators issued guidelines Monday calling for improved standards for food delivery workers. Meituan runs one of China’s biggest food delivery platforms, with hundreds of millions of users making transactions on its app annually.

Earlier this year, China launched an antitrust probe into Meituan, with authorities looking into its “exclusive dealing agreements.”

Tencent also recorded its worst day in about a decade on Tuesday, erasing more than $100 billion from its market value. The losses came after it was hit by a regulatory order over the weekend to scrap its plan to acquire another music streaming player, China Music Corporation.

Altogether, three of China’s most valuable companies — Tencent, Meituan and Alibaba — lost more than $237 billion through the first two days of trading this week. That’s not even accounting for the roiled stocks of Chinese tutoring firms, which took a hit after officials announced a clampdown on the country’s fast-growing education sector.

The sell-off in Hong Kong will go down as one of the biggest in history, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

“Since the end of the financial crisis, there hasn’t been a single two-day decline in the Hang Seng that has exceeded the magnitude of the last two days,” the firm wrote in a note to clients Tuesday, referring to the broader Hang Seng Index, the city’s benchmark.

Still, there could be “potential for a short-term bounce” as investors “look for opportunity in the weakness,” it added.

— By Michelle Toh

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Asia/Pacific

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