BEIJING (Reuters) - When China’s diving queen Guo Jingjing referred to an Olympic rival as “the fat Canadian” she was not necessarily firing the opening salvo in a psychological battle ahead of the Beijing Games.
Guo, as much loved for her looks as her two Olympic gold medals, was blasted by Chinese media for being ill-mannered to reporters during February’s Olympic test event at the Water Cube, but her remark about Blythe Hartley was not a huge issue.
Traditionally in China, to tell someone they are fat can be a compliment, implying they have enough food to eat, are healthy and are not over-exerting with physical labour.
The giggles that followed Guo’s remark, and her tone of voice, inferred that it was not meant to be complimentary, but to describe someone as “fat” is a commonplace descriptive in China.
Brazilian footballer Ronaldo, for example, is often called Pang Luo (Fat Ron) to distinguish him from his compatriot Ronaldinho — Xiao Luo (Young Ron) — and Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo — Xiao Xiao Luo (Very young Ron).
It is quite normal for Chinese to use blunt physical descriptions in a way that would fall foul of rules of political correctness or good manners in the West.
So when Liu Xiang won the 110 metres hurdles at the 2004 Athens Games to become China’s first male gold medallist on the athletics track, he thought nothing of hailing his triumph as “a victory for the yellow man”.
The Olympics will be staged from August 8-24.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by N.Ananthanarayanan)
Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing blog at blogs.reuters.com/china