China: Fake news plagues Chinese sports reports

Global Voices OlympicsSo much speculation these past few days on the ages of some of the girls on China's Olympic gymnastics team, specifically He Kexin and a fair amount of references to keep it going.

Famous Chinese sports writer and Bullog blogger Wang Xiaoshan has posted a dramatically-titled piece, ‘Fake news kills’, in which he tries his best to knock down the various official Chinese sources being used to substantiate He's underage claim, and makes an earnest (?) plea to overseas media to consider the harm done to those stuck in the crosshairs. Wang, by the way, followed the Olympic torch across most of the country starting with its entry into the mainland in May. Do notice that towards the bottom Wang implicates his own publication and one of China's most-respected magazines in the rampant news fakery that Chinese journalists seem so prone to:



Fake news kills

There are many reasons for the appearance of fake news, such as journalists being lazy and not thoroughly investigating, or believing interviewees’ stories without verifying them, etc. Regardless of what the reason, the existence of fake news is the shame of the news industry. What's worth noting is that fake news doesn't only exist in China; there's no shortage of it in other countries as well, and as soon as those fakers are exposed, the result will always be their termination, and some of them even get thrown in jail.

假新闻的危害十分巨大,比如中国女子体操队获得团体金牌后,一些海外媒体就质疑了何可欣的年龄问题,因为奥运会体操项目参赛年龄的下限是16岁,海外媒体怀疑何可欣只有14岁。楚天都市报记者舒展刘雄报道:一位美国媒体的记者先问何可欣到底多大,何可欣回应:“不管别人怎么说,我知道我的真实年龄就是16 岁。”眼看何可欣强硬回击,另一位国外媒体的记者转而去问邓琳琳属相?邓琳琳笑答:“我属猴(注:即1992年生)。”两次“攻击”未果,另一位国外媒体的记者故意问出一个误导性的问题:“何可欣,你15岁的生日是在什么地方过的?”话音未落,在场的媒体都笑出声来。何可欣也不含糊,“我15岁的生日是在队里过的,来了队里,我就很少回家了。”


The harm that fake news does is really huge, like when the Chinese female gymnastics team won the gold, some overseas media began to suspect a problem with He Kexin's age; because the minimum age to participate in gymnastic competitions is 16, overseas media suspected that He Kexin is only 14. Chutian Metropolis Daily reporter Liu Xiong reported: One American media reporter first asked how old He Kexin is, and He Kexin replied: “Never mind what everyone is saying, I know that my true age is 16.” Seeing He Kexin's tough retort, another foreign media journalist then turned and asked Deng Linlin what her animal is. Deng Linlin smiled and answered: “Monkey (ie. born in 1992).” Two “attacks” and no kill, another foreign media reporter purposefully asked a misleading question: “He Kexin, where did you have your 15th birthday party?” Before he was even finished asking, the other reporters present started chuckling. He Kexin answered matter-of-factly: “I had my 15th birthday party here with the team; once we join we don't get to go home very often.”

There's no way that He Kexin could have forgotten her own age, and the International Gymnastics Association had a definite answer on the 9th, that there was no proof whatsoever of any problems with the ages of the members of China's gymnastics team; thus, if there be no problem with that He Kexin said, that puts her at 16 years old. This touches on many media's pre-existing problem of making up news, and I'll just list a few:




4、搜狐体育 2007年12月1日报道:张佩文口中的秘密武器,原来就是最近涌现出的新星何可欣。这名13岁的小将不仅能轻松地完成“李娅空翻”,还在比赛中表现出了与年龄不相符的稳定。(值得表扬的是,现在该网页已经将“13”改成了“15”,知错就改,善莫大焉。——王小山注)

1. Life Daily, November 5, 2007: 13 year-old uneven bars athlete He Kexin spectacularly completed the entire “Li Ya Flying Flip” routine, defeating national champion Yang Yilin who herself had just taken bronze at the World Cottbus Cup.

2. Legal Evening Post, January 22, 2008: On the balance beams training area, the reporter saw 13 year-old newcomer He Kexin preparing her next move, suddenly disrupted by her own coughs……

3. Beijing Evening Post, December 12, 2007: The “secret weapon” mentioned by Zhang Peiwen is none other than the recently-appeared new star He Kexin. At just 13, this newcomer has not only completed the “Li Ya Flying Flip” with ease, but performs in competitions with unusual stability for someone her age.

4. Sohu Sports, December 1, 2007: Zhang Peiwen's secret weapon is none other than new star He Kexin. At just 13, this newcomer has not only completed the “Li Ya Flying Flip” with ease, but performs in competitions with unusual stability for someone her age. (Worth praising here is that now the “13” has already been changed to “15”, so they knew there was an error, and you have to give them that. —Wang Xiaoshan)




5. Changjiang Business Post, Dec. 1, 2007: Thirteen year-old uneven bars athlete He Kexin beautifully completed the full set of moves in the “Li Ya Flying Flip” routine, defeating national champion Yang Yilin who herself had just taken bronze at the World Cottbus Cup

6. Xinhua, Nov. 3, 2007: A photo whose caption reads: Thirteen year-old athlete from Wuhan He Kexin's opponent in the girls’ uneven bars competition will be the national team's Yang Yilin.

7. People's Daily, Nov. 3, 2007: Thirteen year-old He Kexin spectacularly completed the “Li Ya Flying Flip” on the girls’ uneven bars gymnastics competition.




Just to explain, the times on the above reports are those used by each media on their online reports, with the actual time of printing being determined by the paper version. These examples are not complete, or at least, those journalists who did those reports on He Kexin failed to do their job and fact-check. He Kexin says she's 16 (in 2007 she should have been 15), and with so many reporters having all reported her to be 14 (as of 2008), Legal Evening Post even making her 13 (as of 2008), you can see just how much fake news there is in China, a frightening extent. Getting an athlete's age wrong, that's nothing to worry about, but giving overseas media a reason to smear China's athletics field, it's really more hassle than it's worth.

During the Olympic torch relay, I tagged along and did interviews, and as we passed through one city, I had a casual chat with a friend teaching there. I learned that cheating on the gaokao is a hugely serious there, quite painful just to hear about. My friend said, the thing that hurts him the most isn't how unfair a situation the widespread incidents of cheating have made, it's that there's a whole generation whose first step into life is a dishonest one, and it's effectively destroying the city's future—and I completely agree. If foreign media go on like this and we just ignore it, journalists’ inaccurate reporting, aren't we just doing harmful psychological number on our younger athletes?

For more, see SportsIllustratedNet and CaijingNet's Olympics channels.


  • MuLan

    “None of the other sports have age limits, why should gymnastics be the exception. If you are outscoring older girls, why shouldn”t you be allowed to compete? One of the best gymnasts this country ever had, Dominique Moceanu, was just 14 when she was on the Olympics team in Atlanta. I believe it was the next year that they imposed the age limit.” I found this from a different forum.

    Ok, a Russian girl was competing yesterday, and she was only 15, Kennedy, why don’t you bring that up?

    The age limit is NOT effective until 2009 by the way.

  • Ben

    If history textbooks can be faked, why not news? Can this faking of news be also fake? What do we call the faking of faked news?

  • MuLan

    Ben, that would be FAKE CNN which stands for Creep Nazi Network, and BBC, which stands for Biased Base corporation.

  • Pier

    Is necessary to prepare a great global holiday(party) to celebrate the day that Bush stops being A President of U.S.A.

    -L’avis du monde- Est nécessaire de préparer un grand jour férié(congé) global(mondial) (la partie)((le parti)) pour célébrer le jour que Bush arrête étant un Président des Etats-Unis.

    -Weltwahrnehmung- ist notwendig, einen großen globalen Urlaub (Partei) vorzubereiten, um den Tag zu feiern, der Bush aufhört, ein Präsident der Vereinigten Staaten seiend.


    The USA REGIME almost brought WWIII on earth. Bush has shown great sportsmanship by attending the Olympics.

    I will bet USA will be igniting WWIII in the near future. So much for being a nosy world police [humanity]

  • Spelunker

    What an amazing coincidence that so many reporters in China got the age of He Kexin wrong (including China Daily on May 23, 2008 by the way) while the other gold medal Chinese gymnasts appear to have no errors in the reporting of their ages!
    Now we are supposed to blame the domestic Chinese media and refer to this phenomena as “fake news”?
    I still believe the only thing fake in all of this is He Kexin’s passport!

  • Frederic C.

    The Olympics(.com) have been defiled on by a peacock and the olympians are corrupted by commercialism (as are we all).

    The spirit of the olympics lives in the people not the I.O.C.

  • I’m confused – if 7 different Chinese media were reporting that she was 13 a year ago, isn’t that an indication that she is only 14 now? Or they just all made the same mistake repeatedly at different times?

  • MuLan,

    A gymnast can be 15 (one of the Chinese is) so long as they turn 16 during 2008. Therefore, the Russian girl’s age is a nonissue.

  • Jade Parkin

    It is to be understood that all Chinese news all come from one official Chinese channel: Xin Hua News agency, just like in the west all the faked news all started from one originally. Also it is easy to undersatand, there are journalists try to exaggirated how great the new girl was, so he/she may say that girl was 13 but not 14or 15. we ahould believe that the committe of Olympic has checked all qualification of the sports men, it is not easy to fool those officers!

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