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Why will Eileen Gu, an America-born skier become China’s hottest idol in 2022 | Following the yuan
Since obtaining a Chinese citizenship, the 18-year-old San Francisco native has bagged more than 2 dozens brand deals. Now China expects her to strike 3 gold medals, that is x3 of its result in 2018.
Eileen Gu (谷爱凌), an 18-year-old freeskier who was born in the United States and decided to compete for China in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, is set to be the country’s hottest idol this year.
The reasons are obvious. She ticks every box that China wants:
Her choice to naturalize as a Chinese citizen (although there’s doubts about whether she’s given up her American citizenship) and compete for China fits Xi Jinping’s goal of “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation (中华民族伟大复兴)”;
Her alma mater Stanford fits China’s obsession with elite education;
Last but not least, she is the face of 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and possibly the only human voice from China that’s acceptable by the world in terms of public relations.
Materialistically speaking, China expects a lot from her over the next two weeks. The country ranked 16th with only one gold medal in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and this time, it hopes that Gu could strike 3.
That is why, Gu has become brands’ new favorite over the last year, as the Winter Olympics drummed up its promotions with a big plan to engage 300 million people in winter sports, while China’s entertainment industry saw a crackdown on idols whose success was driven by capital and online traffic, and those who demonstrate problematic behaviors in their personal lives.
Like any other business decisions in China, Gu is a safe choice for branding and marketing because her image and back story go well with what Beijing wants for all the above reasons. Then, there is also a bonus point with her being a Gen-Z, or as China is used to call them — “those who were born after 2000 (00后)” — who are to become the largest spending power of one of the world’s largest consumer markets. She’s supposed to appeal to China massive Gen-Z audience.
Like any other business decisions in China, Gu is a safe choice for branding and marketing because her image and back story go well with what Beijing wants
Sadly, as some people say, there is no border in the sports world but athletes are bounded by their national borders. To get the best out of their sports careers, it’s not uncommon for athletes to switch citizenship to those national teams that may be less competitive and there more offer more opportunities. Again, sadly, few fellow nationals could see the decision with an easy mind, In China, netizens and domestic media have used the same rhetoric as Tucker Carlson did on Gu, on China-born athletes who switched citizenships to Singapore, Japan, Canada.
I don’t know why an individual’s decision would stir up others’ lives, because it doesn’t. Those who have a myopic view on Gu’s citizenship is selfish because they think it somehow affects their worlds, it doesn’t.
With an unpopular opinion, I hope there could be more Eileen Gus in this increasingly disconnected world with China and the U.S. continuing to act like a couple that broke up on bad terms.
Out of personal obsession, I gathered a list of Gu’s brand deals1 below through media reports and social media. Watch the space because it will definitely keep growing in 2022:
FACTION, ski equipment maker
Therabody, massage gun producer
Quark App (夸克)
China Mobile (中国移动)
Luckin Coffee (瑞幸咖啡)
Supplement brand BY-Health Co Ltd (汤臣倍健)
JD.com Retail (京东零售)
Bank of China (中国银行)
Drink brand Genki Forest (元气森林)
Mengniu Diary (蒙牛)
Domestic paint company 3Trees (三棵树)
Disclaimer: This article only reflects my view as a Chinese consumer and China watcher, and not those of my employer’s.
While the majority of Chinese brands pay her to be their ambassador, Western luxury brands are particularly finicky about their relationship with celebrities and some deals went unidentified with specific titles.