Should He Zhili be forgiven for playing for Japan?

He Zhili and Hu Ziwei
Ye Yonglie, a science fiction writer and mainstream biographer, has kicked up a storm by defending He Zhili on his blog and in print over the last few weeks. He Zhili (何智丽), a world-champion pingpong player, left the Chinese national team after refusing to throw matches to teammates. She went to play for Japan in the 90s under the name Koyama Chire (小山智丽), adopting her husband's surname.

She's been attacked as a hanjian, and Ye has been attacked as well for defending her. Quoted in YWeekend (translation via ESWN), Ye remarks on the controversy:

After the essay was published by Xinmin Weekly, it was quickly posted at I went there to look. There were more than 500 comments within two hours. Some of these angry young men were cursing very hard. I had stepped on a landmine inadvertently. Ha ha.

Some netizen voices:
· Ye Yonglie, it is not good for your reputation to be mixed up with a Chinese traitor!
· Great writer Ye, I used to admire you. But since you defend Chire Koyama, I must boycott you like I boycott Japanese goods.
· Mr. Ye lets his personal feelings overcome his sense of national righteousness. That is very unwise!
· In order to let Zhuang Zedong win three championships in a row, Li Furong also made the identical sacrifice. There is nothing wrong with putting the national interests ahead!

But it's not just angry young men making a fuss online. Hu Ziwei, a Beijing TV program host, echoed similar sentiments in an op-ed that ran in yesterday's Mirror:

Should we pardon Koyama Chire?

by Hu Ziwei / Mirror

Recently, a former science fiction writer wrote a few articles about Koyama Chire, bringing this controversial figure of the past back into a swirling argument. As for whether this author is truly acting out of a desire to give Koyama Chire a place to spend her waning years, or if he has some other motive, I will not be so rash as to speculate here. However, I believe that Koyama Chire should not be pardoned.

Koyama Chire is different from Jenny Lang Ping [current coach of the US national volleyball team]; Lang Ping is a professional athlete who has coached many clubs overseas. She handles volleyball and coaching overseas with an even mind and a spirit of true sportsmanship, but Koyama Chire acted out of self-interest and a mind for personal glory, and caused heartache for her compatriots through her defiance and betrayal. Bluntly put, victory over Chinese competitors became the motivation for her to vent her personal vengeance. She contintually lets loose with shouts of "Yes!" on the court, as piercing to our ears as "bakayarou."

Some might say that throwing games violates principles of openness, fairness, and justice in athletic competitions. But actually this interpretation is superficial.

Think for a moment: suppose Koyama Chire was a famous football player, and the coach said, you must feed the ball to a forward and let the forwards shoot. Would Koyama Chire say, "I can shoot, too. Why are you letting them score and get all the glory?" Much of sportsmanship is an experience of teamwork and cooperation.

Some people might say that this is a product of the system at the time, but think for a moment: it was precisely that system that gathered the strength of the nation to train you, so how can you take the skills that the Chinese people spent their money to teach you, and then turn around to defeat Chinese people to wreak your vengeance?

You could say that to get revenge, Koyama Chire steeled herself for hardship, and after six years of painful waiting finally struck back. To some degree you could say that this exceeds the bounds of sportsmanship. And we have yet to see an apology from her for those events. The name Koyama Chire is still being used today.

Our tolerance is conditional. Some things cannot be forgiven, and history cannot be forgotten.

* * *

This piece assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the situation on the part of the reader; Hu Ziwei never calls He Zhili by her Chinese name. He's decision to keep the surname Koyama even after her divorce has rubbed some people the wrong way, as Hu notes in her piece. Here's Ye Yonglie's explaination from his Xinmin Weekly article:

Many Chinese fans have a hard time understanding why she wold continue to use the Japanese name Koyama Chire even after her divorce from her ex-husband Koyama Hideyuki. He Zhili explains that the name "Koyama Chire" is quite well-known in Japan, and in addition, filing papers to change it would be a hassle. So she has never changed it.

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There are currently 13 Comments for Should He Zhili be forgiven for playing for Japan?.

Comments on Should He Zhili be forgiven for playing for Japan?

Are all of these chinese male posters angry at this woman's lack of patriotic spirit and team play or at this woman's desire to marry a Japanese man and move there?

I love the impeccable logic of statements like:

"She contintually lets loose with shouts of "Yes!" on the court"

What a crime! How can such insults possibly be tolerated!

I am sure that all Chinese sportspersons (and ex-Chinese sportspersons) are quite "good sports" when it comes down to it, but honestly they have the worst fans in the world.

And I say this with pictures of Pakistanis burning effigies of their cricket team's captain in the streets of Lahore just a few clicks back in my browsing history this morning...

Interesting that it is Chinese males who are so offended. And Hu Ziwei's football analogy is total BS.

Hu Ziwei's weekly debate-style talkshow also discussed He Zhili yesterday. The whole argument is a bit stupid - how can you begrudge someone for wanting to be number one? It seems that He Zhili had an argument with team management and decided to defect to Japan, but she isn't the only one to butt heads with management. Tian Liang, Guo Jingjing and Yang Yang are others who haven't seen eye-to-eye with Team China. People who are opposed to He Zhili need to grow up and realise the nature of professional sport. If Ronaldo was sick of playing second-fiddle to Ronaldinho in the Brazilian national side and wanted to defect to China, would Team China refuse?

this tv host sucks big time and her football analogy made me laugh my ass off!! seriously, ms. Hu! go get a few lessons in football and don't refer to a totally corrupt and unfair system as the end product of patriotism!! that's bull....

Hu's football analogy make me sick as well. I saw her shows a few times, and I'm quite sure that this woman is totally an illiteracy. She's ignorant to so many things such as freedom to access information and freedom to make ones own choice, freedom to think independently too. Shame on her! Shame on Beijing TV!

Ah, I wondered if it'd be on her show (and I wonder if the other columnists in Mirror's weekly TV anchor op-ed feature are writing about their show topics, too). Thanks for the mention, Xiao Zhu.

I can't believe I bothered to read that article by Hu and her crappy definition of 'cooperation'.
Too many bored and boring netizens... hmmm... what do I do, as a member of them?

Nationalism sucks brah!

Smoke dem if you got dem, peace...

I must say I didn't find Hu Ziwei's article boring; rather, I found it profoundly unsettling. In such a short space, she manages to embody everything that is wrong with China.

Of course Hu Ziwei finds He Zhili (aka Koyama Chire) unforgivable. He Zhili is a champion. It is the indisputable factuality of this that Hu Ziwei cannot forget - otherwise she could forgive He for being mistaken. She cannot bring herself to forgive He for being right.

Hu Ziwei saves her biggest insult not for He Zhili, but for the Chinese people, when she writes (Joel's translation):

"...think for a moment: it was precisely that system that gathered the strength of the nation to train you, so how can you take the skills that the Chinese people spent their money to teach you, and then turn around to defeat Chinese people to wreak your vengeance?"

Read superficially, this seems like nonsense, as though Koyama Chire (Hu insists on using He's Japanese name) were herself somehow no longer Chinese. On the contrary, He Zhili both demonstrated and exulted in the power of the Chinese people - through their own will and ability - to rise above those who would deny them their potential. If we replace the word 'people' in the above quote (it appears twice) with the word 'government' or 'state', what formerly read as half-witted gibberish becomes deadly lucid.

Again, superficially, one might read Hu's article as merely laughable. However, the more troubling question is how far her kind is willing to go to defend itself from the potential held by the Chinese people.

After reading the article I too was a little amused by the football analogy as football is a team game where no one member is crowned champion at the end. If this woman was competing as part of the Chinese team and threw the game against another team then I could understand the problem but as far as I can see she was competing as an individual in an individual event.
If she was asked to not do her best and lose then why train her to win. Top sportsmen and women are trained to win, they must want to win every match, every game and every point otherwise they will lose. If the state trained her to win and then were unhappy because she still wanted to win after they told her to lose, it is the state’s fault for training her too well.

If you want a better analogy then imagine a teacher teaching the top ten students for years to be the best and then asking them to answer questions incorrectly so that a weaker student could get the best grades. I’m sure all the students would want another teacher!
If you want a person who has shown loyalty to you by training hard then you should show them equal loyalty by allowing them to be the best they can. After all those years of hard work and sacrifice to then to be told to sacrifice her honour as well is a disgrace. It is the Chinese sports federation who should be apologizing.

Far more unsettling is the contrast in those two photos. Hu Ziwei may not be smart, but she more than makes up for it by not looking like a man

I took a look at He Zhili's picture. She was amazingly pretty when she was in her 20's/30's, a rare beauty in table tennis. link

She might have a manner issue, that she is selfish, and she went to a country Japan, where team play is of paramount interest, that an individual should sacrafice his/her own life.

Personally I'd like to make some fair comments. I believe that after many year's Zhili already has the same opinion, as I just read one article that after she was invited back to China as one of the celebrities in the World other than Chinese National Team, that she apreciated that she had not been forgotten. She thanked China National Team for training her.

I don't think we should worry too much about her deflection. When she got married she was like an angel from China, who brought skills to a country that table tennis was weakened by China greatly. Please be reminded that her father-in-law was the head of Sino-Japanese Friendship Association. So she didn't go to Japan for the sole purpose of betrayal.

I just checked her results at ITTF website. After leaving China National Team, she won many times in Asian Games, and only once in Pro-Tour. She tried twice representing Japan in Olympics, and never made it in the finals. Partly because her golden years past, and more importantly, she left the Chinese Natioanl Team where she could receive the best training by playing more often with the best players of China. It was sad to her personally, because she wanted an Olympic Gold medal so bad that she chose to quit, or even to end her career as a table tennis player (She didn't, as we know).

Cai ZhengHui was sent to Italy as a coach, his name names simply means revitalizing China, not Italy, but he went as TT evangelist. Guo Yue-Hua, went to Germany, so did the couple Shi Zhi-hao and Cao Yan-Hua. Before that Cao taught TT in Japan for about a year. Cao wrote a biography in which she criticized He Zhi-Li. Personally I believe these top players might have brought up Timo Boll, the number 1 enemy of China National Team at present time.

He Zhi-Li was helpful in stirring up interests of Ping Pong of other countries. Otherwise people in other countries would lose interest in table tennis as a whole as China is so dominating in it.

Let's think of her as ping pong promoter in Japan or other parts in the world other than China, she would not be able to hurt the Chinese Team, any more. She is already in her 40's.

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