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China Absolutely Loves Japanese Figure Skater Yuzuru Hanyu

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‘Ice princess’ Eileen Gu might be the darling of the 2022 Beijing Olympics, but 27-year-old Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu could be a close second due to his legacy, appearance, and commitment to history-making jumps.

After making his Beijing Olympics debut on February 8, competing in the men’s single skating category, Hanyu was trending on Weibo for several days. His hashtag on the microblogging site has gained a staggering 6 billion views.

Unfortunately, the two-time Olympic champion fell during his routine in the men’s skating short program and missed an attempt at the quadruple axel move in his free skate on February 10. Hanyu ultimately finished fourth after two falls.

However, the fact that he even tried to become the first person in history ever to land the most challenging jump attempted in figure skating after getting injured in practice impressed many watchers.

“Thank you for participating in the Beijing Winter Olympics and bringing us the ultimate quadruple axel performance,” a Weibo user commented after his failed attempt.

Unlike Gu, Hanyu was popular in China way before the Olympics. Besides his undeniable talent, his devilishly handsome appearance and modest personality have also enthralled Chinese audiences.

What’s more, netizens enjoyed coupling him up with other cute male athletes, such as Chinese ice dancer Liu Xinyu.

The phenomenon of pairing celebrities, sometimes even with fictional characters, and the passion for boys’ love fantasies, are widespread among some Chinese fandoms.

This trend arguably reflects the preference of many Chinese youths for the soft masculinity exemplified by male celebrities like Wang YiboGong Jun, and of course, Hanyu, even as the Chinese government has proposed “cultivating masculinity” in male students and banning boys’ love content.

Even though Hanyu announced that he might not be competing in the next Winter Olympics, he certainly left an indelible mark on the hearts of Chinese audiences. His popularity and the ongoing craze for Gu suggest that athletes will probably gain more prominence within Chinese celebrity culture in 2022.

Cover photo via Wikimedia

Beatrice Tamagno
Beatrice is a graduate student in sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her writings have appeared on SupChina and ChinaNauts, an online magazine she co-founded with fellow researchers from Fudan. When she is not researching gender in contemporary China, you will find her playing mahjong or binging Chinese TV shows.
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