Images of Mao badges worn by two Chinese cycling gold medalists have been censored by Chinese state media, amid an investigation into whether the badges violated Olympic rules.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has requested a report from the Chinese team on why cyclists Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi wore badges with the head of China’s late supreme leader Mao Zedong when they appeared on the podium for the medal ceremony.
“We contacted the Chinese Olympic Committee and requested a report on the situation,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “We are investigating the situation.”
On Tuesday, Bao and Zhong won gold in the women’s cycling team sprint at the Tokyo Olympics.
The IOC relaxed Rule 50, which prohibits political displays on the field of play, last month, but athletes are still prohibited from making political gestures while on the podium.
The International Olympic Committee is also looking into a crossed-arms gesture made on the podium by US shotput silver medalist Raven Saunders, which she claimed was an expression of support for the oppressed.
The Olympic Charter, Rule 50, prohibits any form of political, religious, or nationalistic propaganda or publicity at Olympic venues.
The investigation, according to a Maoist blogger known as Red Soldier, is a form of “Western arrogance,” but he also complained bitterly that Chinese state media had censored images of the Mao badges from footage and photos of the medal ceremony for audiences inside China.
“What really irritates me is that all domestic media outlets in China edited out the Mao badges from the athletes’ chests in their reports,” the blogger wrote.
The post included several screenshots of the badges in international media coverage in plain white.
After the censorship was revealed on Tuesday, many online comments echoed the post’s sentiments, with many saying, “Without Chairman Mao, there would be no new China.”
Before the Great Helmsman’s death in 1976, Mao badges were a must-have accessory to demonstrate political kudos and loyalty. They have since become collectors’ items, with a resurgence in popularity under the rule of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping.
“Historically, Mao Zedong’s image represents China’s transition from traditional society to modern civilization, and the way it left behind its old image as the sick man of Asia,” said Xia Ming, a political science professor at New York’s City University.
According to him, the rest of the world associates Mao badges with widespread death and political persecution during that period of Chinese history.
According to Chen Pokong, a political commentator based in the United States, the resurgence of Mao badges is a relatively new phenomenon.
“This is a peculiar phenomenon of the Xi Jinping era,” Chen explained to RFA.
“Mao Zedong is one of the three great butchers: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong,” he said. “Imagine a German athlete wearing a Hitler pin or a Russian athlete wearing a Stalin pin.”
“There will undoubtedly be an international public outcry as a result of this.”
However, commentators believe the athletes were wearing the badges to demonstrate their loyalty to the CCP.
“All of these athletes and Olympic teams are affiliated with political organizations,” Chen Pokong told RFA. “According to Xi Jinping, the party is in charge of everything and takes precedence over everything.”
“It’s possible that the CCP encouraged these athletes to wear these badges,” Chen said.
According to Yang Weidong, a Chinese artist based in Germany, the CCP has always viewed winning Olympic gold medals as a political project.
“I believe their coach or team leader would have told them to do this,” Yang, whose mother is a former Chinese national athletics team medic, said. “In such an environment, everything is dictated by the CCP’s political goals.”
“People wear these things in an attempt to please the Great Helmsman, Chairman Xi.”