TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Teenage skier Eileen Gu (谷愛凌) has drawn the ire of Western and Chinese netizens alike for her comment on virtual private networks (VPNs) that in the West is being compared to Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake," while in China it was likened to a comparable quote from an emperor from the Jin Dynasty.
The 18-year-old was thrust into the spotlight on Tuesday (Feb. 8) when she took gold in the big air competition in Beijing. Gu, who was born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother and unidentified American father, has become a controversial figure since she chose to join the Chinese Olympic skiing team in 2019, instead of representing the land of her birth and upbringing.
On Feb. 4, Gu posted a series of photos of herself, including dressed in a red Chinese team uniform during the opening ceremonies, as well as herself hamming it for the camera in various outfits. In the caption, she wrote, "olympic lookbook thus far with special appreciation for my mom & super sweet course volunteers."
However, one of her followers asked, "Why can you use Instagram and millions of Chinese people from mainland cannot, why you got 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 responded within the same hour by commenting, "anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store," before closing with a thumbs up emoji.
(Instagram, Eileen Gu screenshot)
Gu's comment was quickly met with resentment and ridicule in both China and Western countries because there are no such VPNs available on app stores in China. They must be purchased outside the Great Firewall of China and require a regular fee to continue to be operable.
In 2017, the Chinese government forced Apple to remove VPNs from its app store, while the entire Google Play Store has been blocked for a number of years in the communist country. Another major criticism of Gu's remark was that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) banned "unlicensed" VPNs for personal use in 2018, leaving only state-owned firms and government agencies with permission to use them.
In addition, China has been using its Cyber Security Law to arrest people who sell and share them. In Xinjiang, ethnic minority Uyghurs have been arrested and handed heavy prison sentences for downloading VPNs.
A screenshot of the post was shared on Weibo, where some Chinese netizens praised her for fighting against "keyboard warriors" and defending "the motherland." However, others who do not have the luxury of easily downloading VPNs compared her comment to Emperor Hui of the Jin Dynasty, who when hearing that citizens were suffering from famine suggested "Why don't they eat minced meat?" (何不食肉糜).
Ironically, the Weibo posts that included screenshots of Gu's defense of the Great Firewall of China were soon deleted by censors.
Chinese dissident artist Badiucao (巴丢草) on Tuesday (Feb. 8) posted the screenshot on Twitter and pointed out that people in China are arrested and sentenced to prison for using a VPN to read news from Western media or post their opinions on social media. "But Eileen Gu just brushes away all the brutal reality for ordinary Chinese and easily slides into CCP's propaganda," wrote the artist.
South African YouTuber Winston Sterzel on Wednesday (Feb. 9), uploaded the screenshot and described her comment as a "bad combination (of) ignorance and privilege, a true 'then let them eat cake' moment." Sterzel pointed out that using a VPN is illegal in China, it has led to many arrests, and that the "CCP censors the internet specifically to prevent local Chinese people from accessing sites like Instagram... smh."
On Thursday (Feb. 10), the artist posted his latest poster depicting Gu biting into a gold medal and waving at the crowd as she stands on the backs of three Uyghurs handcuffed and clad in prison uniforms. In the caption, he stated that the new poster is dedicated to the "Champions of the Genocide Olympics like Eileen Gu."
There r people in China arrested n sentenced simply for using vpn to read news from west media or tweet their opinion.— 巴丢草 Badiucao (@badiucao) February 8, 2022
But Eileen Gu just brashes away all the brutal reality for ordinary Chinese and easily sildes into CCP's propaganda.
What a shame！so privileged like a 外宾 pic.twitter.com/SYyPUXfu2K
A bad combination ignorance and privilege, a true “then let them eat cake” moment.. using a VPN is illegal in China and has resulted in people being arrested, the CCP censors the internet specifically to prevent local Chinese people from accessing sites like Instagram… smh https://t.co/7zbDfGuaMU pic.twitter.com/tIsXl6pGWR— Winston Sterzel (@serpentza) February 9, 2022
1. New Poster dedicates to the Chamiopns of Genocide Olympics like Eileen Gu！— 巴丢草 Badiucao(@badiucao) February 9, 2022
More design coming soon！
download & share all posters to join the fight：https://t.co/fGxfKybACV
Support my #NFT project https://t.co/AHQaQnKGTB
新海报送给墙国冠军 #谷爱凌 #BoycottBeijing2022 pic.twitter.com/wgCuuZeHUB