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National Games of China 2017

Overseas Chinese athlete from America makes historic appearance at country’s National Games

Country is opening its arms to diaspora in bid to ‘share in Chinese dream’ – and perhaps strengthen Olympic teams

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 10:45pm

American Jay Shi made history at the Chinese National Games – the country’s ‘Olympics’ – as he fired his first shots in the men’s 50m pistol competition.

Born in Tianjin, the host city of the Games, in 1979 before his family emigrated to the US when he was a child, Shi became the first overseas Chinese to appear at the quadrennial sports festival under new rules.

He didn’t qualify for the next round, but told state media Xinhua: “It’s amazing. Even now I can’t believe it.

“Showing up in the National Games arena and hearing my relatives chant and cheer for me is an experience as precious as hitting a bull’s eye,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Seven other overseas Chinese athletes are competing, in a move that some see as China attempting to widen its net to attract athletes from the Chinese diaspora – especially with Beijing hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022.

In an announcement in June, the country’s sporting bodies invited overseas Chinese to share in the “Chinese dream” by competing in Tianjin. Chinese with foreign citizenship, descendants of Chinese immigrants and Chinese citizens abroad were eligible.

Li Yingchuan, vice minister of the General Administration of Sport, said the decision was made “to further unite the power and wisdom of overseas and foreign Chinese, enhance the cohesion and solidarity of the Chinese nation,” and “promote the development of the sports industry in China,” according to Xinhua.

China is making huge efforts to make sport a central part of the economy and people’s daily lives, and president Xi Jinping reiterated that goal in his speech at the Games’ opening ceremony.

A major effort to promote winter sports is also ongoing, with the Olympics coming.

Sports officials say they could try to ‘recruit’ top athletes from the diaspora, but those with overseas citizenship would have to secure Chinese passports before being eligible for the Olympics.

Shi was desperate to reach the Beijing Olympics in 2008 but failed to qualify. He took time off to focus on his career as a web developer for 2012, then competed for the US at Rio 2016 where he finished 14th – but his event has been scrapped for Tokyo 2020.

At the National Games, he wore a uniform bearing a banner that read ‘Nan Yi Li Kai’, which means ‘Hard to Say Goodbye’, Xinhua reported.

“This is my last 50m pistol competition. What makes it even more special is the race was held in my motherland. ‘Nan Yi Li Kai’ is exactly how I feel,” he explained.

“I will always cherish this experience. I hope I can come back again to compete at the National Games in the future.”

In a perhaps embarrassing detail not mentioned by the state propaganda machine, the reason Shi’s family emigrated to the US was to get better medical care for their son after he accidentally stabbed himself in the right eye with scissors, according to interviews he has done with US media.

A botched surgery in Beijing almost left him blind in the eye. A friend of the family worked at the famous Johns Hopkins Hospital and US doctors managed to partially restore his vision – though not well enough to shoot.

Shi thus shoots ‘cross-eyed’ – sighting with the left eye while holding the gun in his right hand – a major disadvantage.

“At the time the medical technology in China wasn’t sufficient to perform the surgery so there’s nothing they could have done,” Shi told USA Shooting News in 2016.

“My grandfather’s friend was an ear/nose/throat specialist at Johns Hopkins so he wrote to the embassy explaining all of this so we got a tourist visa to come to the US for surgery.”