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The Asian Games in Hangzhou: A Showcase of Competition, Symbolism, and Increased Security Measures.
The Asian Games in Hangzhou: A Showcase of Competition, Symbolism, and Increased Security Measures.

The Asian Games in Hangzhou: A Showcase of Competition, Symbolism, and Increased Security Measures.

The 19th Asian Games, originally planned for 2022, were delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown in Shanghai. They are now taking place in Hangzhou, a city on China’s eastern coast. This event is seen as a major opportunity for the Chinese government to improve their image after three years of isolation under strict COVID-19 regulations. The games, which run from September 23 to October 8, include 481 events and involve 12,500 athletes from 45 countries in Asia and the Middle East. China currently leads in the medal count with 270 total medals, including 147 gold medals.

In a historic move, the Asian Games have announced the inclusion of esports as an official competition category. Teams will compete in popular multiplayer games such as Street Fighter V, League of Legends, and Arena of Valor Asian Games Version (or Honor of Kings). Despite Chinese regulations that limit minors’ online gaming to three hours per week and a recent proposal to restrict smartphone usage to two hours a day, China remains the largest market for esports in terms of revenue and fan base. Some fans expressed disappointment when it was announced that Chinese video platforms would only stream the semifinal and final events, citing concerns about internet addiction as a reason for the decision.

In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan’s trip to a Wuhan housing complex was met with protests from residents who claimed that everything was not as it seemed. Nowadays, it is a frequent occurrence for local residents to be prohibited from opening their windows, peering outside, or even standing near their windows during significant international conferences, sporting events, or visits from high-ranking Chinese officials. In the past, teachers have been occasionally enlisted to monitor windows during official visits, a monotonous task that is considered a crucial political duty.

The increased security measures in Hangzhou for the Games have caused trouble for the community and resulted in financial losses for delivery companies. CDT Chinese editors have collected online photos of sealed windows during the Games and shared a video on the impact of undelivered packages on delivery services. Some internet users have drawn comparisons to pandemic lockdowns, where packages were not delivered, food deliveries were wasted, and delivery workers were left stranded.

A member of the social media network Xiaohongshu posted a photo of a closed curtain with a message that stated, “Please do not open. Protecting the Hangzhou Asian Games is the responsibility of all. This order will be in place until October 28, 2023.”

A photo from a Chinese social media platform displays a paper seal covering a glass window. The seal states, “Window will be sealed during the entire Asian Games.” [Chinese]

A Bilibili user, @小雪, shared a video discussing the financial losses faced by their online grocery delivery service due to undelivered packages in Hangzhou and other areas of Zhejiang province during the Games.

Due to the recent Asian Games held in Hangzhou, we are currently experiencing a high volume of returns on a daily basis. (points to a stack of packages) This is the number of packages that are returned each day.

For each package, the total amount due includes the cost of the items and the shipping fee. It is also probable that we will need to replace the external packaging, which will incur a small cost.

The most important aspect is the penalties imposed by the delivery platform. We are charged a fine of 5 yuan for each order that is returned.

The Hangzhou Asian Games are not under our jurisdiction. However, if shipments cannot be delivered due to increased security measures during the Games, we will be held accountable for any fines, despite it being out of our control.

The current iteration of the Asian Games has been characterized by grandeur, displays of international camaraderie, and demonstrations of good sportsmanship, as well as some expected mishaps, exclusions, and rivalries. In preparation for the Games, volunteers were stationed every three meters along Hangzhou’s streets, braving the rain to rehearse for the opening ceremony. Signs throughout the city boasted of Hangzhou as a “paradise on earth” and promoted this year’s Games slogan of “heart to heart.” Despite concerns, the elaborate opening ceremony went smoothly, although some spectators were surprised and entertained by the use of virtual fireworks instead of traditional pyrotechnics. In an effort to prioritize environmental considerations, the host city of Hangzhou chose to utilize special effects, 3D animations, and a virtual torchbearer instead.

The Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily faced a setback before the Games began when it had to remove a video promoting the event due to two classical poems that contained politically sensitive messages. One of the poems referenced the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, which some activists had used to bypass censorship. A larger controversy arose when hurdlers Lin Yuwei and Wu Yanni hugged after competing in the women’s 100-meter hurdle final, with a photo showing their lane numbers as “6” and “4,” potentially alluding to the Tiananmen massacre. After state-media outlets Xinhua and China Central Television News shared the photo, they quickly deleted it and Weibo censored posts containing it, possibly realizing the political significance of the numbers.

During the third day of the games, there was a noticeable incident when the North Korean men’s shooting team refused to stand on the podium with the South Korean team who had won the gold medal in the shooting competition. This was after the North Korean team had narrowly missed out on winning the gold medal. A few days later, during the women’s 50-meter butterfly final, Chinese swimmer Zhang Yufei won the gold medal and shared a podium with Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who won the bronze medal in the same event. Ikee is a source of inspiration in the world of swimming as she was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2019, but resumed competitive swimming just a year later after receiving treatment. Despite Zhang and Ikee’s heartwarming hug, which represents the spirit of events like the Asian Games, there was backlash from Chinese nationalists online. Some unfairly accused Zhang of betraying her country, while others strangely implied that Ikee was responsible for the recent Fukushima wastewater discharge.

A heartwarming story that received a lot of attention was the search for a lost mobile phone by volunteers in Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre. The phone belonged to 12-year-old Hong Kong chess player Liu Tian-yi, who had placed it in a paper bag and feared it had been accidentally thrown away. After searching through thousands of bags of rubbish, the volunteers were able to locate the missing phone. Hong Kong Asian Games captain Kenneth Fok Kai-kong expressed his gratitude through a video, praising the volunteers for their dedication. However, the online response to the incident was mixed, with some questioning if the search was a display of Asian Games “hospitality” or a way to exempt foreigners from Chinese laws. Others pointed out that the “volunteers” were actually maintenance staff from the Olympic Sports Centre and may not have had a choice in participating in the search. In a post that has since been deleted from the WeChat public account “Basic Common Sense,” blogger Xiang Dongliang acknowledges that while Chinese culture values hospitality towards guests, the government and Games organizers may have ulterior motives in promoting the phone search.

If you use a lot of resources to assist a guest with a typical issue, and then have a team of journalists capture photos and videos that you proudly share on your official social media page…it’s difficult for me to believe that your intention is solely “hospitality.” [Chinese]