Sunday, February 13, 2022
Chinese athletes have been in the headlines during the Winter Olympics being hosted in Beijing. A prior ImmigrationProf blog post highlighted Eileen Gu, a biracial Chinese American skiier who renounced her US citizen to compete for China, winning gold. She has been greeted with enthusiasm in both the US and China. The mirror image of Gu has been presented in the experience of Zhu Yi, a California-born figure skater who competed for China, but fell in competition and did not medal.
China has actively recruited athletes of Chinese descent to compete for China in sports where they have historically struggled. It has raised questions and sometimes ignited fierce debates on social media. The reception has been worsened by "a lack of official explanations of how the naturalized athletes fit within the Chinese legal system or the future of its national team. China does not recognize dual citizenship, and conservatives strongly oppose any relaxation of the country’s strict immigration laws", says a Washington Post columnist. The article quotes a Beijing sports commentator, Sean Wang, saying:
“Naturalized athletes are a shortcut — a contingency plan — for the host country to catch up and improve performance in a particular field.”
Naturalization is common across competitive sports in many countries, and Americans have competed for the countries of their parents in prior instances. However, the practice is relatively new in China, according to historian Susan Brownell (her prior writing on "citizenship switching" among athletes in Olympics here).