China’s first gold at the Winter Olympics has only fanned the country’s resentment of South Korea

Take that, Korea.
Take that, Korea.
Image: Reuters/Damir Sagolj
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After a bruising showing at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, China finally won its first gold medal yesterday (Feb. 23). And while Chinese fans are celebrating, they’re also using the occasion to vent over what they deem to be unfair treatment at the games.

When speed skater Wu Dajing won the men’s 500-meter short-track event yesterday—and in the process broke the world record for the event twice (in the quarterfinals and finals)—a commentator from China’s state broadcaster exclaimed in a cracked voice: “Clean and neat, we are No. 1!”

It may seem like an innocuous remark, but it reinforces China’s feelings of being sidelined at Pyeongchang. China has viewed itself as a victim of unfair rulings at this Winter Olympics, so much so that state media have kept a tally (link in Chinese) of the times its speed skaters have been knocked out over penalties (eight), including four players who were disqualified (link in Chinese) on the second day of short-track events.

One of the most heartbreaking moments for fans came Wednesday (Feb. 21) when China was disqualified in the women’s 3,000-meter relay, after it was accused of blocking South Korea in the final relay exchange. South Korea ended up winning the gold. “If we were South Korea, we might have not been penalized,” one of the Chinese skaters said after the match.

That frustration has flowed over to Chinese social media. On China’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, a video clip (link in Chinese) of Wu’s race has attracted more than 48 million views, and the comments are dominated by relief and elation that China finally clinched a gold medal, mixed in with bitter mockery of South Korea’s host advantage. The bad feelings between the two countries come after diplomatic relations hit a low last year, after Seoul refused to halt the deployment of an anti-missile system that Beijing views as a threat.

“It’s so not easy. Wu Dajing won the championship at Korea’s national games,” one person joked. “The judge will turn to the Koreans and say, ‘It’s not that I’m not helping you, but how can I give a penalty if you can’t even touch him?’” another wrote.

Another Weibo user shared a photo of him giving a thumbs up to a TV screen showing a Chinese flag waved by fans at the Gangneung Ice Arena, juxtaposed with an image of him giving the middle finger to the South Korean flag. The post has garnered more than 8,000 likes.

For some Chinese internet users, the rulings at Pyeongchang have reminded them of the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea and Japan. While South Korea made it to the semi-finals after knocking out soccer powerhouses Italy and Spain (thanks to a series of controversial rulings), China lost all three matches and failed to score a single goal in the tournament—its first and only appearance in the World Cup.