Two Chinese cyclists have attracted attention in Tokyo by wearing a Mao button during the Olympic Games medal ceremony, where political expressions are not allowed. At home in China, the Mao pins are no longer visible in photos of the ceremony, to the anger of Chinese internet users.
On Monday, the photos of the golden cycling duo Zhong Tianshi and Bao Shanyu were in the Chinese state media: the women wear a Mao button in addition to a gold medal. On Tuesday, however, the buttons of the photos appear to have been polished. Even on Zhong Tianshi’s personal account, the pins were no longer visible.
Under Article 50 of the Olympic Manifesto, it is illegal to express political opinions during the Games. So after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on Tuesday that it would inquire about the buttons with the Chinese Olympic Committee, they quickly disappeared from the Chinese internet.
Internet users noticed that after ‘Buttongate’, there was only sporadic news about the sporting top performances of Zhong and Bao, who set a new world record in the team sprint section. “Just because of your Mao pins (…) you get less attention: despite the gold medal, you don’t go viral. On the contrary, you make people proud; you are sincere proletarians in addition to athletes!” wrote an internet user on the Chinese Twitter service Sina Weibo.
A Mao button is not just a pin in China. During the Cultural Revolution, when the youth was mobilized for the political agenda of the Great Helmsman, the buttons were not available; whoever wanted to show that he really loved Mao pinned the thing to his skin, as close to the heart as possible.
Victims of political violence under Mao have painful memories of the pins. Chinese people who have been left out as their country prospered through economic reforms are wearing Mao buttons to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the market economy. The website Utopia, a Maoist platform, was overjoyed by Mao’s “dazzling” appearance at the Olympics.
All the more ‘disgusting’ Utopia found the lack of attention to the ‘revolutionary elements’ behind the Mao button and the removal of the pin. “Those who have never seen the light fear the teacher’s light the most,” Utopia said in a commentary.