After winning two gold medals, countless hearts, fame and fortune, the San Francisco-born prodigy concludes with her months-long stay in China, where she is known as Gu Ailing.
It’s an expected departure – the 18-year-old is heading to Stanford in the fall, having delayed her entry for a year to focus on the Olympics.
Her fans, many of them young Chinese women, were quick to thank her on the back. “You are very welcome because you are one of us,” said one comment with 41,000 upvotes. Another said, “Thank you for giving me so much positive energy.”
Gu also posted on Instagram, “Thank you China for the unforgettable few months and endless love.”
But not everyone in China appreciated it as a “thank you” — at least, not in the way she phrased it.
On Weibo, some accused Gu of behaving like a “foreign,” claiming she thanked China with a marked sense of distance. Others asked why she did not say “Thank you to the motherland” or “Thank you to my country” like other Chinese athletes.
One prominent commenter said: “She finally considers herself an American. She only joined China temporarily.”
The mixed response to Gu’s post illustrates the intense scrutiny the teen star has faced while trying to walk the tightrope of being American and Chinese at a time of geopolitical tensions between the two countries.
Born and raised in California, Gu chose in 2019 to compete in China – where her mother was born. But despite being widely embraced within China, she is also haunted by questions about her nationality – and, by extension, her loyalty to the country she now represents.
According to the Olympic Charter, the athlete must be a citizen of the country in which he is competing; A competitor who holds the citizenship of two or more countries at the same time may represent either of them.
But China does not allow dual citizenship, and in recent years has even cracked down on people with two passports, with the government encouraging the public to report them.
Jo hasn’t publicly said if she gave up her US citizenship to compete for China, and speculation mounted after she applied for the US Presidential Scholar Program in 2021, which is open only to US citizens or permanent residents.
At press conferences, Gu repeatedly evaded questions about her nationality, often saying, “When I’m in China, I’m Chinese. And when I’m in the States, I’m American.”
She also alluded to this dual identity many other times, thanked her American coaches and expressed her desire to inspire other young female athletes in China.
But she found herself in an impossible position during the Olympics, where she faced condemnation from some in the West for representing China, as well as an all-out PR campaign in China that portrayed her as the face of the country’s sporting dreams and the triumph of soft power. .
“Why don’t we look at her dual citizenship? Is ‘everyone equal before the law’ just a lie?” asked one Weibo user.
Another comment read, “You only get it now? The law is for use with ordinary people only.”
She has previously been criticized for not singing the national anthem when the Chinese flag was hoisted during the medal ceremony at the Winter Olympics. It was also mocked for not recognizing its own privilege, when it claimed that anyone in China can download a VPN for free from the App Store. Most of the criticism of her has been withheld.
By Thursday evening, Weibo seemed to have restricted the last discussions about farewell Gu as well. A search for the trending hashtag “Gu Ailing posts on Weibo to thank China” only shows posts from official accounts now – not surprisingly, everyone is praising them.
CNN’s Jesse Young contributed to this report.