Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Margaret MacNeil, of Canada, after winning the women’s 100m butterfly at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Japan. Photo: AFP

A gold medal-winning Canadian swimmer has sparked intense debate in China over the country’s decades-long one-child policy and gender discrimination due to her Chinese ancestry.

Margaret MacNeil rose to worldwide prominence on Monday after winning the women’s 100-meter butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics, breaking an Americas continental mark in her maiden Games.

The 21-year-old, however, was gaining popularity in China for a different reason, as word circulated that the Canadian girl who defeated China’s best female swimmer, Zhang Yufei, by 0.05 seconds was really born in China and adopted as a baby by a Canadian couple.

Her Chinese ancestry has gotten a lot of attention and thoughts on the more critical social and political conditions that led to her adoption by a foreign family.

According to her biography on Team Canada’s official website, MacNeil was born in 2000 in Jiujiang, a city on the southern banks of the Yangtze River in China’s Jiangxi province.

Many speculated on Chinese social media that she had been abandoned by her biological parents, a frequent occurrence under China’s now-defunct one-child policy.

Canadian Swimmer Brings Attention
Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Swimming – Women’s 100m Butterfly – Final – Tokyo Aquatics Centre – Tokyo, Japan – July 26, 2021. Margaret MacNeil of Canada celebrates after winning the gold medal REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Due to a cultural preference for boys among many Chinese households, the strict policy, which was in effect until 2016, resulted in female babies being aborted, abandoned, and even murdered. As a result, the country’s sex ratio at birth is severely skewed, with a surplus of more than 30 million males.

In 2016, the Chinese government, concerned about falling birth rates, permitted all couples to have two children. This year, the regulation was further modified to allow three children.

However, for many Chinese internet users, particularly women, MacNeil’s win has acted as a stark reminder of the policy’s destructive legacy and persistent gender imbalance.

According to the US government, more than 84 percent of the nearly 82,000 children adopted from China by Americans between 1999 and 2019 are females.

While some internet articles and postings have depicted MacNeil’s Chinese ancestry as a source of national pride for China, many have pointed out that the country should instead reflect.

“How do you still have the guts to disclose (her Chinese roots) since we lost such a gift due to the preference of males over girls,” one remark stated.

Others bemoaned gender inequality in their upbringing, particularly in rural China.

A famous Weibo post stated, “Canada has stumbled upon a rare treasure,” and asked people to help MacNeil find her real parents drew a lot of backlash.

The full remark below the post read, “It’s the Canadians who have nurtured her into a beautiful jewel.”Canadian Swimmer Brings Attention

Zhang, the silver medalist from China, said she felt “very close” to MacNeil after the race on Monday. Reuters reported Zhang as adding, “I feel like she’s a family member.”

Meanwhile, MacNeil has emphasized that she is a Canadian who “always grew up Canadian.”

“I was born in China and adopted when I was very young, so that’s the extent of my Chinese ancestry,” MacNeil stated during a press conference.Canadian Swimmer Brings Attention

An effort to demolish a homemade monument outside of the Zhengzhou metro station where 14 people died in flash floods has sparked anger online, with some accusing officials of attempting to minimize the tragedy.

Last week, more than 70 people died in Henan when heavy rains wreaked havoc on the central province, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and inflicting an economic loss of 81.9 billion yuan (about $12.5 billion).

The flooding has been chiefly concentrated on Zhengzhou, the province capital, where commuters on the city’s subway system were stranded when floods flooded the city’s network of underground tunnels. Several images posted on social media showed the tragedy of the floods, showing people gasping for breath in neck-high waves.Canadian Swimmer Brings Attention

Members of the public gathered at Shakou Road subway station in the days after the disaster, leaving flowers and burning candles at the entrance to remember the people who died.

However, those coming on Monday discovered that barricades had been erected overnight, preventing entry to the monument. Images of the fence attracted widespread condemnation online, with two linked hashtags getting more than 150 million views on Weibo, China’s highly restricted version of Twitter, although it was unknown why it had been built or by whom.

Canadian Swimmer Brings Attention
Maggie Macneil (photo: Jack Spitser)

Some neighbors tore down sections of the barrier late Monday night, only to have a new fence constructed the following morning. Later Tuesday afternoon, authorities yielded, dismantling all barricades and allowed people to lay flowers in the open.

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