June 12, 2008

The Great Women of China

A commenter here once pointed out that to be a successful journalist, it helps to be very curious but not very smart. From the Wall Street Journal:

The Great Women of China


BEIJING -- Here is China's secret formula for topping the Olympic medal tally: two X chromosomes.

WSJ's Mei Fong reports that Chinese women athletes consistently outperform their male counterparts. She explores the reasons why.

In China, it's the women who have traditionally racked up the medals. At the 2000 Games in Sydney, the Chinese women won five more gold medals than the men. In Athens in 2004, the women won 19 gold medals, while the men won 12. By comparison, American women accounted for 12 of the nation's 35 gold medals in 2004.

Although many Chinese athletes have yet to qualify for their 2008 Olympic berths, women are widely expected to outdo the men again this summer. Wrestling coach Zhang Zhetian says the country's best odds for a wrestling medal lie with the women's team. His reasoning? Women work harder. "Guys -- you've got to push them more," he says.

"Women know how to eat bitterness," says tennis coach Sun Jinfang. (The saying "chi ku," or "eat bitterness," in China denotes a willingness to suffer and endure back-breaking work.) Ms. Sun has helped usher four doubles players into the Women's Tennis Association's top 30; no male Chinese tennis players are world-ranked.

The disparity is apparent at Beijing's Xiannongtan Sports School, where boys and girls train separately under bright red banners with messages like, "Grow in Painful Struggle and Develop in Spurts."

In the women's ping pong hall, the tables are newer and slightly fancier than in the men's section, splashed with logos of sponsors such as Japanese company Mizuno Corp. There are no visible logos on the men's side. Xiannongtan's director Hu Xiaobing said the female ping pong players attract more money and sponsors.

Academics say China has long held a historical reverence for strong women …

Yes, that's why all the Chinese actresses in Wong Kar-Wai movies like "In the Mood for Love" wear such loose-fitting skirts: to provide room for their Michelangeloesque thigh muscles.

There's a much simpler explanation: Communist countries, such as East Germany, the Soviet Union, and now China, usually do proportionally better in women's events. (Cuba, under the macho Castro's rule, might be an exception to this pattern.) Why? Because it's easier to win women's events, so governments that judge themselves by their Olympic medals totals put disproportionate emphasis on women's events.

If you want to win a medal in a men's event, you've got to beat a whole bunch of men from around the world who really like the idea of being the World's Greatest Whatever at some stupid competition. If, on the other hand, you want to win a medal in some women's event, other than sexy dance-like events such as figure skating or rhythmic gymnastics, you mostly only have to beat women from societies who push women into those events. Thus, China has long done well at, for example, women's weightlifting.

In particular, you can get more bang from your buck with doping female athletes with artificial male hormones, since men have so much of the natural kind.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Dean Jackson said...

I think your last sentence nails it. In a country where the government is willing to sanction "cheat to win", I'd be amazed if most of the female athletes didn't spend 95% of the last few years on steroids and HGH, taken off them recently in order to pass through the drug screenings.

Just $0.02, and speculation, but it would explain why a country known for thin, lithe individuals puts forward so many musclebound champions.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, that is sad. I wonder if the chinese names of the reporters indicate they might be working for the Chinese government. When the Chinese women outperform the men noticeably at the Olympics this summer, and in precisely those events where doping will have the greatest effect, stories like this will have helped prepare the gullible for the news. Given the atrocious level of sports journalism everywhere on earth, perhaps it will work.

Anonymous said...


Women's sports optimize for agility and grace. Men's sports optimize for strength and brute speed. Chinese are more feminine overall, compared with whites, or especially Africans. And so it's no surprise that a race more agile than strong wins in women's events more often.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... "governments that judge themselves by their Olympic medals totals..."

Medal counts are themselves cheap journalism. Nobody "wins" the Olympics, and only fools imagine one does. There is no official count.

They're like those other fools who call the winner of the World Series "world champions". (Unless they're referring to The New York World, the defunct newspaper for which the contest was named.)

Anonymous said...

this is why, or rather how, korean women are so "good" at golf.

because women don't play competitive golf. or hardly any other sport.

so if there is a sport that few people play and the field is weak, it's much easier to become "good".

koreans are also into archery for this reason. to rack up cheap, easy medals.

of course, this still applies to men. not many men play competitive golf worldwide, which is why, or rather, how, eldrick woods is so much better than everybody else. he's beating up on chumps.

Anonymous said...

Chinese are also less sexually dimorphic. That makes a big difference at the bleeding edge of competition.

But this "chi ku" (eat bitterness) bragging... Typical. I often heard Chinese boasting of their ability to survive on grass and herbs as they slurped stewed pork rinds and stuffed themselves with rice, washing it all down with copious drafts of Yanjing beer.

Anonymous said...

why communists? why not other authoritarians?

Anonymous said...

>>>>(Cuba, under the macho Castro's rule, might be an exception to this pattern.)

Cuba pushed their men's athletics pretty hard. Sotomayor was a gifted athlete, a hero in Cuba, and set the high jump world record. He was also banned for life for drug use. So the mightily egalitarian Cubans get to cheer for a cheater.

Unknown said...

"Wrestling coach Zhang Zhetian says the country's best odds for a wrestling medal lie with the women's team."

Women's wrestling is now part of the Olympics? Maybe I should start watching after all ...

Anonymous said...

"why communists? why not other authoritarians?"

Probably because right wing ones are more into traditional gender roles. Although when it comes to implementing militant feminist policies our liberal democracies take the cake.

Anonymous said...

Dean Jackson is right, the last paragraph nails it. East Germany is the best other example of a country which systematically doped its athletes. And in the sports where performance is most easily measurable, track and swimming, they had numerous female world record holders and only one for men, Roland Matthes, and he started setting records back in '67, well before steroids had appeared on the scene. It's exactly as Steve said, steroids have a proportionately greater effect on women, since men already have more muscle-building male hormones in their body. it's sad, but if you look at the current list of world records for women, they are still all held by doped athletes, at least up through 1500 meters.

Anonymous said...

Gee, there is something obvious, at least to me, barely touched on in the post or comments: the Chinese (and Japanese, and Koreans) are small in stature compared to the other races of man, a difference less acute with respect to women. Doesn't this more than anything else, obviously, explain the complete absence of north asians on American college and pro football teams. Chinese women are much more apt to compete favorably against other races than Chinese men competing against e.g., black Africans. Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

Anon-you're forgetting Wolfgang Schmidt, world record holder in the discuc and poster boy for steroid use. He was actually imprisoned for trying to leave the East.


Anonymous said...

These are the events for which Chinese women won gold medals at Athens in 2004:

diving (3), weightlifting (3), badmintion (3), table tennis (2), taekwondo (2), judo (1), wrestling (1), swimming (1), tennis (1), shooting (1), track (1), volleyball (1)

Anonymous said...


I checked, there's no jell-o.

Anonymous said...

"why communists? why not other authoritarians?"

Radical egalitarians are more competitive.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think all sides involved are picking out oversized genetic freaks and them pumping them full of hormones. It's just that in the west it's done in the private sector and in the commy world it's done in the public sector.

The wisest ones are probably the Indians, who don't win medals, but at the same time don't give a damn about these foolish games anyway.

Anonymous said...

Well done, Steve.

You know, if these pinheads only thought about what every other Wall Street financial "expert" knows about stocks -- that "growth" stocks, i.e. a start-up priced at say $1.50 and is selling a hot product, will make way more money than a "succesful" stock, something that's already $150 -- they'd figure out things like these in a minute. But there's probably a huge distance between their synapses to make the connection (which would indicate sparcity of synapses, therefore lower quantities of gray matter ;)).


P.S. This faintly reminds me of Gladwell's "early prodigies vs. late bloomers" mumbo jumbo. A conspiratorial thought: maybe these types know the properties of the statistical distribution too well, and they're cunningly re-packaging its "partial" properties as if they've discovered unusual phenomena... Naaah, just can't be! Never attribute to conspiracy what you can easily explain with plain old stupidity.

I tell you, to these people, life is full of "surprises" -- as it is to say a rabbit with a RAM good for 10 minutes of data.

Unknown said...

Having lived, and traveled extensively, in the PRC, I have noticed two things: Chinese have less muscle mass and body size, and are congenitally dishonest. They'll do anything to rip off a lao wai. The fact that a country with such a huge population cannot find athletes who can compete without being doped illustrates these factors. The Chinese women I knew were not striking physical specimens--badminton was their favorite sport. They are, however, on the hunt for foreign husbands who can get them out of the country and support them in regal style, which is a much more relevant example of their willingness to "eat bitterness."

Anonymous said...

There's an old Batman episode where Burgess Meredith, as the Penguin (SQUAWK! SQUAWK! SQUAWK!), actually runs against Adam West, as Batman, for mayor of Gotham City.

At one point, Penguin declares that he's demonstrably more honest than his opponent because he, the Penguin, is always in the company of law enforcement officers, while Batman is always in the company of criminals.

Ever since the U.S. women won that soccer tournament back in -- I'm not sure, but I associate it with the same year that Mike Myers's geeky face was splashed all over billboards as a movie advertisement -- the scuttlebutt has been that women are actually physically superior to men.

The logic behind it is not dissimilar to that used by the Penguin in his mayoral campaign.

I mean, the U.S. women were demonstrably the best female soccer players in the world while the U.S. men's soccer team was and probably still is somewhere in the middle or bottom of the pack in comparison to the soccer teams made up of men from other countries, so what more proof could you want that the U.S. women were better than the U.S. men?

Or at least, that they were doing more to make their country prouder?

That was the party line promoted by sports journalism at the time, though no one actually speculated on the likely outcome of a match between the women's team and the men's team.

Of course, simple mathematics informs us that since men and women rarely, if ever, compete on an elite athletic level, the total number of gold medals and tournaments won by all of the men's and all of the women's teams all over the world must always be relatively uniform.

So if some women's team is demonstrating extraordinary ability in one or more particular sports, it stands to reason that this will be at the expense of other women's teams.

In turn, THIS suggests that there must surely be countries where the male athletes bring home more gold than do the females.

In those countries, it must be the men who know how to "eat bitterness" if that's really what one needs to do in order to engage in the back-breaking task of playing ping-pong.


Anonymous said...

Those of you claiming that East Asian men have much less muscle mass than North American men, so therefore East Asian women are relatively stronger than North American women, because they hew closely to East Asian men are way off.

East Asian women also have more body fat and less msucle mass than other Caucasian or African women. They are at far greater risk for osteoporosis as well. In strength and speed, the African women will continue to hold the advantage, assuming that steroids are not employed.

They may be prominent in gymnastic events, because these types of sports fit their phenotype, however it is a stretch to say that they are more "graceful". I see very few East Asian women who are competitive as ballerinas, though many do enroll in ballerian schools when young.

Anonymous said...

"Chinese are also less sexually dimorphic. That makes a big difference at the bleeding edge of competition."

Is there any evidence for this? One may look at East Asians in general and say that they lack masculinity, therefore both sexes are alike. But the same reasoning applies to Africans, whose women can viewed as much more masculine and "in your face" than other races.

Does that mean Africans are less sexually dimorphic?

Anonymous said...

I dunno, cheating by doping seems endemic to professional sports. No need for SMERSH, just call BALCO.

Anonymous said...

In the last Olympics, the female Chinese divers looked like they could beat up any of the male Chinese divers.

Anonymous said...

Grizzlieantagonist mentioned how the US women's team won the World Cup in 1999, and we were all supposed to care. (we didn't) Ya know who they beat to win it? China. Conversely, the Chinese men's team has only qualified for the World Cup once ever, and they got mopped. Of course, the US men's team isn't exactly a juggernaut, though they're at least pretty decemt. Still, they ain't threatening for the title.

Anyway, the whole China/US World Cup Final in an absurdly popular sport is a pretty fine illustration of women's sports as described here.

Anonymous said...

If you ask me South Asians from southern India have far worse physiques than East Asians.

Anonymous said...

"Chinese ...... are congenitally dishonest."

Well about 90% of the people originating south of the Alps (with the exception of Japan, S. Korea and places like Bhutan) are congenitally dishonest.

Anonymous said...

I've seen pictures of Chinese women weightlifters. They look like Shrek.

Very suspicious. Sort of like how sumo wrestlers are the only fat Japanese.

Anonymous said...

If East Germany started doping, it's us Americans who perfected it. Look at all the American women in track 'n' field who doped, from Marion Jones on down. And look at the mens' with all the medals being returned because of doping Antonio Pettigrew just returned his medal from the 2000 games. I mean, c'mon - kettle, meet pot. Look at all the BALCO scandals, half the Yankees, and who doesn't believe Roger Clemens didn't dope. We can cheat with the best of 'em.. let's look in the mirror first before we judge others.