Poor Gu Ailing, or, as we call her here in the country of her birth, Eileen Gu. She claims to have jumped ship to join the Chinese team for this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing because she hoped to inspire young athletes on both sides of the Pacific, and to spread goodwill between the nation of her birth and the nation of her maternal ancestors. Instead, she has managed to sow more discord than one would have thought possible on the part of an 18-year-old athlete with a pretty face and a talent for freestyle skiing.
Indeed, she is a supremely gifted skier. But her lack of self-awareness is breathtaking, even in one so young. Or perhaps she is just as canny as her mother, Gu Yan, a China expert for Fusion Investment, Inc., could make her.
Eileen’s decision to join the Chinese team was made in 2019, but did not arouse broad interest until the Olympics began and it became clear that she was a contender for at least one gold medal. While a gaggle of social media pundits have accused her of being a traitor, and Fox News of “ingratitude,” most American mainstream media outlets have gushed with enthusiasm over her talent and youthful idealism, remaining largely quiet about the deeper implications of her “defection.”
A piece full of glossy Instagram photos ran in Women’s Health magazine on Feb. 7 showing Eileen posing with her mother and grandmother. One of the shots was previously posted by Eileen on International Women’s Day in March 2020 and was accompanied by the sort of fuzzy feminist signaling that has made her a poster child for women’s accomplishments in sports. “Today is a day meant for celebrating all of the ambitious, empowered, loving, bold, smart, and altruistic women around the globe making the world a better place, through countless individual choices and achievements,” she wrote. She went on to thank all the women who helped her to “grow in the right directions…” and who taught her the “virtues of empathy, kindness, trust, honesty, and compassion.” The list omits any mention of humility.
Nary a word in the article suggests that Eileen might be anything other than the image she tirelessly projects. Yet her social media and marketing savvy is such that we may assume she has been well-coached, first by her mother and now, in all likelihood, by her Chinese keepers. Her ardent admirers are fond of saying that Gu is more than a talented skier; she is a goodwill ambassador and a citizen of the world whose shining example transcends mere national loyalty. But if she is a role model for millions of young women, what exactly is the message that she transmits?
In the world inhabited by the Snow Princess, who is both a skier and a fashion model, transcendence seems to be achieved primarily by transforming oneself into a celebrated commodity. She has garnered dozens of endorsements in the past few years, amassing a fortune of more than $40 million—and that’s just the beginning. Yahoo News recently called her a “multicultural phenomenon” and “a magnet for global brands.” Those brands include Tiffany & Co., Gucci, watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen, Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, as well as Bank of China, Cadillac, and China Mobile. “Brands that want to diversify their representatives around the world,” sports marketer Dan Tunna recently noted in Forbes, “flock to Gu, who has ‘all the qualities’ they want.” He adds, “Her dual-nationality status makes her the ideal ambassador for Chinese brands operating globally and Western brands looking to grow in China.”
The term “nationality” here glosses over the question of citizenship, about which Gu has been, to say the least, equivocal. China does not allow dual citizenship, so how is it that she is able to compete for the Chinese team? Has she renounced her U.S. citizenship? That seems unlikely.
The most probable scenario is that she has been granted an exception by Xi Jinping, who met with her back in 2019 and apparently struck some kind of hush-hush bargain. If she has been granted dual citizenship, publicizing that fact would clearly not play well with the millions of diasporic Chinese-Americans who forfeited that privilege when they became U.S. citizens. When pressed for an answer about her official status, Gu intones: “When I am in America, I am an American. When I am in China, I am a Chinese.”
It is easy to dismiss this as eyewash. But while it is intended to be evasive, it may very well be true. If so, that truth reveals a deeper problem.
For millions of younger Americans today (particularly those under 30), one’s nationality is increasingly a subjective preference, a matter of ephemeral feelings more than a sense of rootedness in a particular place with a particular heritage. Last July, Newsweek reporter Jacob Jarvis explored at some length the alienation of younger Americans from the patriotic loyalties of prior generations in a piece entitled “Why Millennials and Gen Z Aren’t Proud to be American.” Among other causes he noted that “Ultimately, the notion of patriotism itself—of tying yourself emotionally to one place and making it a definitive characteristic of your personality—is something younger people are less beholden to than those born before them.” In other words, they are the offspring of a globalist worldview that encourages them to believe that love of country is insular and small-minded.
Yet it is not just younger Americans that think this. Almost two decades ago Samuel P. Huntington lamented in The National Interest that a “major gap is growing in America between the dead or dying souls among its elites and its ‘Thank God for America’ public.” Huntington’s title, “Dead Souls: The Denationalization of the American Elite,” was borrowed from these lines in Walter Scott’s oft-quoted “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”: “Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, / Who never to himself hath said, / ‘This is my own, my native land!’” Alas, in recent years the number of dead souls has proliferated like a viral mutation. In Huntington’s view, our transnational elites had already begun “seceding” from their countries of origin in the 1980s. Increasingly, they live and work in a world set apart from the rest of us, embedded within a globalist web of multinational conglomerates, fueled by liquid assets and fungible commodities.
Little wonder, then, that Gu, spawned in San Francisco, one of the great centers of the globalist new order, cannot imagine being tied to her “native” land for any reason other than convenience. Nor is it likely that her ties to Team China run any deeper. She feels Chinese when she’s in China, whatever that means. She certainly doesn’t feel for the native Chinese Uyghurs who are rotting in Communist prisons and “re-education” camps. Asked repeatedly to use her position to speak out about the hideous treatment of China’s Muslim population, she has refused. It’s all about the skiing, she says. “Here’s the thing, I’m not trying to keep anyone happy. I’m an 18-year-old girl out here living my best life.” Those who don’t understand, she said, are simply uneducated.
It seems that Gu’s critics do not have a monopoly on ignorance. When asked about censorship in China, she stumbled into the biggest gaffe of her young life. As reported in numerous venues, one anonymous Chinese Instagram user, irritated by her complacency, wrote: “Why you got [sic] such special treatment as a Chinese citizen. That’s not fair, can you speak up for those millions of Chinese who don’t have internet freedom[?]” Gu, in an astonishingly mindless reply, stated that “anyone can download a vpn [sic] its literally free on the App Store.” As is well-known, anyone in China who attempts to access forbidden, non-Chinese social media sources is subject to persecution and possible imprisonment by the regime.
It is remotely possible that the lovely skier does not realize that she is simply being used by the Chinese government. But whether she does or not, she is China’s biggest propaganda coup in many a year: the pretty face masking the terror China wages against its own citizens. Unfortunately, her mascara is beginning to run.
Eileen Gu kisses the gold medal she won competing for China in the women’s freestyle skiing half-pipe competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, on Feb. 18 (Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)