Is It “Asian Hate”? The Uncomfortable Success Of Chinese MMA Star Weili Zhang

Ben Black

Black in name only

By Ben Black

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The usual answer to the “Is it racist?” questions is “If you have to ask, it’s probably racist.” But when Weili Zhang’s next opponent Rose Namajunas says she is very motivated for this fight because of “What Zhang represents (referring to Communism and China)”, we have to address the story behind it, the history, and the huge online debates that erupted between Americans and the Chinese.
For those living under a rock, Weili Zhang made history when she became the first ever Chinese UFC Champion by knocking out Jessica Andrade in the first round. Many felt that the UFC granting Zhang a title shot and scheduling the fight to take place in China were unfair given Zhang’s credentials up to that point. But Zhang proved doubters wrong not only by knocing out of Andrade, but also by following it up with a 2020 fight of the year win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the greatest female Strawweight fighter of all time.

I personally like Zhang. She’s an exciting fighter who is unique and personable. She also proudly represents her native China, which has drawn the ire of Western media and fans. But what do you want her to do? Not show national pride? Even if she hates what the Chinese government represents, she would have to outwardly show support if she doesn’t want to suddenly “disappear”.

So it becomes a tricky situation. We can’t fault Zhang for showing love and support for her country (whether it’s coerced or genuine), and at the same time we feel an anger towards the atrocities the communist country she represents brings to the rest of the world. The negative emotions are especially understandable for someone like Namajunas who is named after her Lithuanian great-grandmother, whose husband died at the hands of people with the same communist ideologies (the Soviets).

The first argument we hear from Chinese nationalists whenever these types of high profile criticisms take place is that “America is worse”. And even though this line of argument is definitely an admission of guilt and a cop out, it also holds truth. Yes the Chinese genocide against Muslims is horrible, but the criticism doesn’t hold much weight coming from countries that wiped out 95% of Native Americans through genocides and invasions that were ongoing up until less than 100 years ago.

But here’s the difference: The overwhelming majority of Americans will readily admit that wiping out Native Americans was a terrible thing to do. If a major American media outlet tries to justify or deny the killing of millions of Native Americans in 2021, they will quickly lose viewership and get sued into oblivion. Chinese media on the other hand both denies and justifies placing Muslim minorities such as Uyghurs in concentration camps. In fact China goes a step further to censor any criticism of the atrocities that its government commits.

But again to be fair to Chinese ride-or-diers and bots, despite condemning its own past wrongdoings, the Unite States still participates in atrocities on the level of the Uyghurs genocides to this day. For instance, the U.S. supported Saudi Arabia in its Yemeni genocide under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations creating what the United Nation called “the worst famine in 100 years” (Biden promised he “would” stop supporting the war efforts, but that is yet to be seen). Think about that. In a century with contenders like North Korea, Palestine, the Vietnam War, Japan pillaging China, Japan getting Nuked twice, and Uyghurs, the U.N. is saying that the U.S. backed crisis in Yemen is causing the worst famine. I’m not saying the opposition forces in Yemen are angels, but if you’re working with Saudi Arabia to famish civilians and kids worse than North Korea, maybe there’s a better way.

Perhaps the hate towards Chinese athletes and sympathizers is based on their freakishly homogenized, seemingly rehearsed and brainwashed take on current affairs. In American MMA, we have Tyron Woodley who is a Black Lives Matters activist and Colby Covington who still wears a MAGA hat in 2021, both expressing their unique political viewpoints. Even though Woodley and Covington have completely different views, they both clearly state their discontent with their home country government, while simultaneously maintaining their patriotism.

Woodley Covington Licensed
Colby Covington (left) & Tyron Woodley (right)
However when it comes to China, every single athlete claims China can do no wrong, which is very off putting especially given much evidence to the contrary. It makes the athlete sound fake, brainwashed, or afraid to speak out. Perhaps muzzling its best representatives is necessary for the Chinese government to maintain control over its massive population and preserve peace. But it certainly doesn’t help their image in the international community.

So here is some unsolicited advice to Weili Zhang: Pick something the Chinese government is doing that you don’t like and talk about it, while still maintaining your patriotism. Maybe the Uyghur thing is a bit too sensitive and speaking out against it could get you or your family thrown in a labor camp. So maybe you think China could do a little better when it comes to pollution. Or maybe the Chinese minimum wage should be higher. Or maybe it’s issues like women’s rights or homosexual discrimination that you feel passionate about improving in China.

Whatever the topic of choice is, I think painting an imperfect picture of China will help you become an even bigger star, and by extension bring more affinity towards your home country of China.

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