The Stolen Innocence of Chinese Girls in Photographs

August 15, 2016

|Alejandro I. López
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“I was worried because the coach said that I might get replaced on the team since I had a fever.”
Shang Chunsong, Chinese gymnast, after struggling during the qualifications in Rio 2016 Olympics.

On the screens, we see stadiums filled to the brim with roaring crowds and on the very center awe-inspiring human feats. As they take the podium and lift the gold, silver, and bronze medals, we are inspired by their effort and dedication. We are flooded by inspiring quotes and speeches, and we all dream of reaching the top. This euphoria is inevitable when the largest and most prestigious sporting event takes place. 

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The finishing line approaches and as the countdown reaches zero, the competitive spirit in all of us is kindled by the flames of the Olympic torch.


According to the International Olympics Committee (IOC), three values must be upheld in these events: excellence, friendship, and respect. These virtues make it possible to have good sportsmanship in times of triumph and loss. The goal is to build a peaceful and better world, and the mark of a true Olympian is friendship, solidarity, and fair play.

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"Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will, and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for Universal fundamental ethical principles."
International Olympics Committee

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This premise inspires millions of youth from around the world who dream of one day representing their country. They forge ahead, competition after competition, and their eyes never waver from the ultimate goal: becoming Olympians. All their lives revolve around those few weeks that come about every 4 years. 

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Sacrifices must be made and no part of their lives remain untouched, their time with family and friends is shortened, and extracurricular activities are few and far between. Their bodies must be moulded to perfection and their minds must overcome every obstacle. Their spirits are put under inconceivable pressure, so when the time comes, they are able to perform at peak condition. 

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The decision to continue despite the setbacks and losses is only found inside the heart of a true olympian and they alone have the power to decide whether to continue or to gracefully back down from the competition. This is not the case in China. Thousands of schools scattered across the country the promise to turn  young children into "champions." It is a torturous training process that can last up to four hours per day. According to the trainers of the Chinese delegation, success is based on sacrifice and effort. On the surface these values may seem idyllic and in tune with those of the IOC, but behind the laurels lies a more rotten reality. 

Millions of Chinese children are forced to continue and perfect this rigorous regime. From an early age, their bodies are pushed to the extreme their minds are subjected to mental abuse. Sports is a safe haven for many, a sweet part of life that allows people to forget their worries and improve their physical and mental wellbeing. This is not the case in these training schools. Sports equate to excellence at all costs. Sacrifices must be made and all methods are employed to obtain the best of the best. The results? Heavy olympic medals hanging from their tired necks. 

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"According to the trainers of the Chinese delegation, success is based on sacrifice and effort. On the surface these values may seem idyllic and in tune with those of the IOC, but behind the laurels, lies a more rotten reality."

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The positive cycle that sports create is broken and all virtues disappear. These children have barely stepped outside their bubble and they are already thrust into a brutal and competitive world. The golden halo of the olympic values are tarnished and diminished by the brutal weight of a system that transforms children into machines. To win whatever the cost has become the new dogma. The body is taken to a breaking point and all concepts of dignity and self-will are swiftly erased by repetition and routine. 

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Gold becomes worthless and not even the passionate echoes of the national hymn can fill the void inside. The price of glory must never be above human values. So, as the flag is raised and the crowds stand in ovation, we cannot help put wonder if the human costs of sporting glory are too high. 

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Alejandro I. López

Alejandro I. López

Editor de Historia y Ciencia