Article on upbringing of Chinese skater An Xiangyi

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Messages
459
Country
New-Zealand
She made her „train to death“ because someone made a negative comment online. Putting it very lightly, she might not handle any criticism well. I’m waiting for another part of the article to be translated and praying it was a mistranslation and sounds different in Chinese. :-/

Regarding mistranslation, I think the errors are minor (e.g. the phrase you mentioned, 死劲, is more like 'vigorously/doggedly') but the main gist of heavy training and harshness is accurate. Google Translate tends to cope worse with direct quotes from Ms Zhang, since she uses many colloquialisms and cultural/historical references.

As a general remark, the focus of this article isn't really about Nini's (honestly slim) Olympic prospects - it's more like a human interest article, hence the meandering length. I'd be interested if anybody here with a psychology background could analyse Ms Zhang. Pre-emptively reading counselling material for bereaved parents is uniquely weird compared to, say, Tonya's mum.

I agree that the interviewer is milking the drama quite a bit for entertainment value. Scenes described by Ms Zhang and observed by the interviewer are both rephrased like a narrative, blurring the distinction between first- and second-hand information, but plenty of verbatim stuff is quite disturbing, unless the mother is being very hyperbolic/sarcastic.

Still puzzled as to why Ms Zhang would consent to this interview/feature in which she suddenly does an about-face compared to her previous media features... it's hardly beneficial to her. In China, society may be more accepting of harsh training than in some other countries, but only if it's proven to be effective and if administered lucidly by professional coaches in a sports school environment, which is very much not the case here.
 

el henry

Fangirl of men’s spirals and split jumps
Record Breaker
Joined
Mar 3, 2014
Messages
11,621
Thank you Flying Feijoa for your translation work:clap: An article of this length is not easy.

I believe I read from some other source that the article is from the Chinese edition of "Esquire" magazine, could anyone confirm that? When I first heard of the disturbing material, I thought perhaps it was a gossip magazine or even a blog, but now it seems way too detailed for that:confused:
 

karne

in Emergency Backup Mode
Record Breaker
Joined
Jan 1, 2013
Messages
16,119
Country
Australia
Genuine question:

Is there some kind of child protection agency in China who could step in and remove a child from a clearly abusive environment?

Or, because it relates to sport, would it unfortunately be considered fine?
 

lilahozi

Record Breaker
Joined
Dec 6, 2013
Messages
3,470
As a general remark, the focus of this article isn't really about Nini's (honestly slim) Olympic prospects - it's more like a human interest article, hence the meandering length. I'd be interested if anybody here with a psychology background could analyse Ms Zhang. Pre-emptively reading counselling material for bereaved parents is uniquely weird compared to, say, Tonya's mum.

Narcissistic parenting. In a decade, Nini is going to be a regular poster over at r/narcissists
 

Weathergal

Medalist
Joined
May 25, 2014
Messages
1,855
Flying Feijoa, thank you so much for all the work you are putting into this!

Does anyone know (or perhaps this is yet to come in the artucke) if Nini is receiving any type of schooling at all? What type of schooling is mandatory in China?
 

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Messages
459
Country
New-Zealand
Part 3: (On injuries/father's role in training/marriage)

From within the Beijing Sports University basketball court, the dribbling of balls can be heard. On the white woollen carpet near the window, a group of little girls are practicing rhythmic gymnastics. Nini is amongst them, currently stretching her hamstrings against the edge of the carpet. Zhang Aijun stands beside Nini, doing her hair - perhaps a little too tightly, as it draws a grimacing protest. "Such a drama queen," Zhang Aijun laughs. "She's just like me." Then she sings softly: "When I grow up, I'll become you..."

Once during training, another mother reported Zhang Aijun to the rink manager for 'child abuse', because she had hit and scolded her her child, causing a 'public disturbance'.

Even now, sitting in on Nini's dance class recalling this incident, Zhang Aijun still gets agitated. "That was a minor case," Nini comments from the side. "A minor case to you maybe, but it made me so bloody angry, you know?" Zhang Aijun replies. Sitting in a row of plush chairs by the wall, she seems unable to extricate herself from the emotions of "having been reported". "People always point the finger at 'stepmother'-type characters like me."

Zhang Aijun applies a 'kamikaze-style' approach to Nini's training. Consistency in competition relies on muscle memory, to which there is no shortcut - only tedious, extreme, limitless repetition. "It's like charging into the jaws of death," said Zhang Aijun. "Nini's job is to push herself to the limit." She keeps a close eye on critical training parameters including current physical fitness state and rest periods. Doctors are often required to monitor and promptly treat any minor training injuries as they occur.

“It's an artificially accelerated approach, albeit a scientific one [TN: she subverts the proverb 'pulling up shoots to make them grow faster', which usually means to be counterproductive]," says Zhang Aijun, "because athletes are required to pursue results." However, there have been times when this acceleration was overreached. In October 2018, Nini was practicing "advanced triple-triples" (a difficult figure skating element) with Zhang Aijun. One day Nini jumped more than 300 times, from the afternoon into the evening, but eventually returned home due to leg pain. That evening the doctor diagnosed an abnormality in her fibula.

The injury occurred in her right leg, which to figure skaters is like the two legs of birds, since all jumps are landed on this leg. This worried her father An Longhe, a former figure skater, since he remembered that during the last competition before his retirement, a pain in his right foot had served as a warning sign. Nowadays, injury is not uncommon for Nini. "She often has trouble with her ankle. If there's absolutely nothing wrong at all, her mum isn't happy as (she thinks) it means she hasn't been training enough. Her mum lets her rest if she's injured, but if she's healthy then she has to train," her father An Longhe says.

"To win, one has to be a mother like me who won't accept defeat. Being a normal mother definitely won't cut it," says Zhang Aijun.

Even during the period when she was mortally afraid of losing her daughter, Zhang Aijun understood that this sort of love was 'lesser' - who wouldn't want to caress those plump youthful cheeks? Everyone loves cute babies - but she was determined not to be preoccupied by 'lesser love'. Zhang Aijun turned away from empathising with bereaved parents and thereafter eliminated any motherly tenderness during training. "Isn't one afraid to throw bombs or march to the battlefield? But one still has to do it anyway. Getting rid of tenderness is the issue at hand - there is nothing that cannot be removed."

That time after jumping more than 300 'advanced triple-triples', in order to heal, Nini had to temporarily stop practicing the 3A (a jump of almost the highest level of difficulty possible, considered 'a must-have for the podium') which she had been training for more than three months. The process of healing from injury affects athletes' muscle memory, quite possibly causing all their previous hard work to 'go to waste'. Figure skaters, especially girls, may not be able to jump at all after even 3 days' break. In the end, after more than 2 month of recovery, Nini had to start from scratch.

An Longhe occasionally reminds Zhang Aijun to be careful to avoid injury, but often to no avail. Not only because Zhang Aijun takes the main role in Nini's training, but also because An Longhe had been working overseas in Thailand and only returned permanently when Nini was 5 years old. "Her way of thinking is the same as her mother," says An Longhe. During Nini's early childhood, An Longhe worried that she might sustain a career-ending [TN: or crippling, it literally means to become 'useless'] injury, but Zhang Aijun dissented, telling Nini "Let's get a national championship title and prove him wrong!" Nini also followed Zhang Aijun's example, telling her father "My mum says I won't get a career-ending injury. Everything she says is correct!"

The only person able to offer an opposing opinion to Zhang Aijun's training plans is An Longhe, but his worries and complaints are often met with mere silence.

A few times during training at the club, An Longhe almost fought physically with Zhang Aijun. One day, he heard her yelling at Nini inside a room. Thinking she was hitting their daughter, he charged into the room, shouting 'You madwoman!' However, he was instead greeted by the sight of Zhang Aijun slapping her own face and hitting her head against the wall, with Nini copying her. Zhang Aijun would often use this method to threaten Nini to be more patient during training. She wished for Nini to train with a calm mindset, as behaving impatiently would be dangerous and increase the likelihood of injury. However, An Longhe can't exactly recall what happened to prompt that day's events. "There are some things too tiresome to remember, except that they made me feel uncomfortable, so I just let them go and forgot about them, " says An Longhe.

During Nini's training time, Zhang Aijun has found a 'division of labour' approach for her and her husband - she runs the family like a business. "If we ran things like a family we'd just tire ourselves out. Only by operating like a business can respect and efficiency be upheld."

Within this 'business', CEO Zhang Aijun set the motto as 'the matriarch is boss'. "Power struggles are like palace intrigues. Men will not accept women's authority. They're all overgrown infants who won't negotiate with you - all you can do is force them with brute power." However, her mode of interaction with An Longhe is rather one of silent collaboration.

[TN: 'Palace intrigues' refers to the historically rampant political infighting within the imperial household, involving not just (male) courtiers/nobles, but also the 'behind-the-scenes' crew of random imperial cousins/in-laws/eunuchs/concubines etc. One of the few ways that women could wield a lot of power - if they were strategic enough.]

Collaboration between Zhang Aijun and An Longhe manifests in Nini's training. An Longhe is responsible for technique while Zhang Aijun brings their daughter to dance classes. Silence refers to the fact that the two rarely communicate in person nowadays, rather mostly via WeChat messages. "Only by messaging can mutual respect be maintained, (because) if the marriage is too intimate then it's easy to disrespect one another. Thus to achieve harmony, it was necessary to be silent, distance myself from him and ignore him," said Zhang Aijun.

In fact even earlier, upon receiving their marriage certificate, Zhang Aijun had already decided to "distance" herself from An Longhe, "because only by distancing myself from him can I create something world-class... My marriage is a business involving people who live together."

Zhang Aijun believes that the arguments between her and An Longhe will give Nini 'immunity'. "I'm slowly beginning to think that men are quite boring and so is marriage. Such is maturity," says Zhang Aijun. "The world isn't a simple place - rather, it's quite cruel. I'm quite a pessimist... (If I were to) love him deeply, if he left me [TN: alternatively, 'if he died'] then it would torment me." [TN: The ellipsis and round brackets suggest that she does not in fact love him deeply, but they are added by the editor.]

Last bit coming soon...

Some thoughts:
-Bit of editorial hyperbole about losing all jumps after 3 days' break, especially in light of current events...
-I'd prefer someone more professional/mature (e.g. Zhao Hongbo or Jin Boyang's coach) to take over Xiangyi's coaching
-Mother tends to make enigmatic, self-contradictory statements, as well as state opinions as facts ('Such is so-and-so' or 'This is what Y is'). To me, she sounds a bit like the Old Testament (but with more swearing)... Maybe there is a God complex going on?
-You're welcome :) Felt like contributing since I often enjoy reading some great translations provided by other posters
 

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Messages
459
Country
New-Zealand
Genuine question:

Is there some kind of child protection agency in China who could step in and remove a child from a clearly abusive environment?

Or, because it relates to sport, would it unfortunately be considered fine?

I think there are child protection agencies, but what the mother is doing is probably not legally considered abusive... Even in other countries, I'm not sure whether there would be legal grounds for child removal, especially if the child appears to be getting on pretty well with the mum otherwise (even if she is indoctrinated).
 

eaglehelang

Final Flight
Joined
Sep 15, 2017
Messages
926
Flying Feijoa, thanks a lot for your translations.
The article sounds like a wuxia novel or Romance of the 3 kingdoms variety.
 

anonymoose_au

Making rhinestone vest and tie combos cool
Record Breaker
Joined
Feb 22, 2014
Messages
10,002
Country
Australia
Zhang Aijun sounds like a complete monster! I mean yikes...she hits her child and brushes it off as "some little thing"? I saw a video of Nini screaming in pain while her mother "stretches" her.

Seriously, someone should call the police on that woman now.
 

AshWagsFan

Edges for days.
Final Flight
Joined
Oct 14, 2017
Messages
586
Country
United-States
I’ve watched NiNi’s videos on YouTube and she seems really talented! But if you’re mother is more intense than Eteri Tutberidze, it’s usually a red flag.
 

nussnacker

one and only
Record Breaker
Joined
Mar 16, 2019
Messages
2,553
“Zhang Aijun slapping her own face and hitting her head against the wall, with Nini copying her. Zhang Aijun would often use this method to threaten Nini to be more patient during training.”

Oh my lord. The psychological damage to this girl might possibly haunt her forever. A mother that teaches her daughter to hurt herself in case of failure - what positive can come out of this once Nini hits a very vulnerable teenage phase?

Seeing how Alexandra, who was only 20, has decided to end her life because of her issues, it makes me 10 times more worried about little Nini.

I was so disturbed by what I read when I first got those few snippets, I couldn’t get it out of my head for several days and had to talk to my spouse about it, because Nini’s story had hit me so hard.

The fact that Nini’s mom treats her family as a business, Nini as an asset - where this little girl is supposed to get warmth and support from?
:(
 
Last edited:

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Messages
459
Country
New-Zealand
Part 4 (final): Featuring random Buddhist references, daily life, making friends and puberty

You might be very interested to know whether there are any cracks in Zhang Aijun's heart - whether she has ever regretted or hesitated? No matter how many questions she is asked, in her mind she is always able to convince you. "To others we may seem to be dysfunctional, but in fact this is the experience of a lifetime," said Zhang Aijun. "People have called me a stepmother [TN: implied wicked stepmother], "(but) it's different in reality. I'm closer to the reality (of life)." To her, this reality means that a person's duty towards self-achievement necessarily includes a price that must be paid. [TN: this paragraph is quite ambiguous, and may need a more metaphorical interpretation - I can only muster a literal one.]

That day when Nini was practicing to music, Zhang Aijun leaned over the boards and shouted clearly and loudly, "Cut the crap, Heaven commands you to do some more run-throughs!" Nini, standing at the opposite side of the rink, muttered a retort absently under her breath, "Would you please stop it with the 'Heavens this, Heavens that'? [TN: colloquial reference to Heaven here is a general term for a deity, not specific to any religion.]

"I need this type of environment to live," Zhang Aijun says. She is Buddhist, so during training habitually uses terms like 'du4 jie2' [TN: roughly 'ascending spiritual levels through facing hardships'], 'heavens' and 'xiu1 xing2' [TN: roughly 'spiritual study/practice'] to explain to Nini what she faced. “I teach her about life while training her." [TN: these terms are Chinese Buddhism-related jargon which I could only roughly translate since I'm not Buddhist.]

When Nini falls while skating, Zhang Aijun explains it like so: "Heaven ordained for you to 'du4 jie2', to face tribulations, to make you practice more, you ought to thank Heaven! ... If you were to end up falling in competition, this would be 'xiu1 xing2'... The number of tribulations sent by Heaven will not decrease in response to your pain. That mountain will not become any lower in response to your diligence, understand?"

When she kicks things during Nini's practice or appears otherwise irritable, Zhang Aijun says that in fact she is helping Nini. "We don't have a mother-daughter hierarchical division, but rather we achieve mutually on a spiritual level."

"As a mother, I've walked the path trodden by all women, only that it's more extreme, pushed to the limit, nerve-wracking. After experiencing all this, I learned that my tribulations will not stop. Art is polished by its deficiencies. The greater the tribulations, the more beautiful the flowers of Art will be. It's like a lotus - it can grow on dung or on the point of a knife. We 'xiu1 xing2' in the dung and on the point of the knife, bearing not only the burden of pain but also of stink."
[TN: Not sure if this would make sense to a Buddhist philosopher, or if they would also agree with me that she is raving...]

Now, from Zhang Aijun's mother's savings to Nini's prize money, the wealth of three generations has gone towards supporting figure skating. Zhang Aijun understands the 'art of spending': The household spends 600,000 yuan per year on Nini, while for herself Zhang Aijun spends 20 yuan for a pack of a dozen socks and buys discounted underwear. Nini's monthly massage treatment costs 7,000-15,000 yuan, while still more is spent on high-quality food - fresh juices, Mediterranean olive oil, coconut oil etc. Thus, when others comment that Nini's training is cruel, Zhang Aijun responds "Absolutely not, she's very fortunate."

In December 2019, at Wanxiang City rink in Shenzhen, Zhang Aijun is surrounded by a crowd of parents. They've just watched Nini's performance and are regarding Zhang Aijun with an air of worship, curious to know about her way of raising Nini. "Let's hear the great master's lesson," says one parent. Upon hearing this, Zhang Aijun hurriedly corrects them. "What great master? Don't give me random names! I just have a few pieces of advice for you all, nothing like a lecture."

Before long, there is another question from the crowd: "Does An Xiangyi herself like figure skating? Does she have a sense of achievement?"

"It's got nothing to do with whether she likes it or not," says Zhang Aijun. "No matter whether it's the child or the parent who chooses the field, as long as she is successful in it then she will come to like it. There's a saying in English, 'Nothing is fun until you're good at it'." The parents nod in adoration.

When others are full of praise for Nini's achievements, praising Zhang Aijun for being such a successful mother, only Zhang Aijun knows deep down what a risky road they have chosen. Nini may be injured through training enough to force a premature retirement. Zhang Aijun knows that this is a very real possibility, and in fact is mortally afraid of it - Nini does not go to school, so is unable to join the test-based education system. They've hedged their bets on figure skating, but haven't yet had major results, so she is obliged to continue skating until she achieves these results, or at least tries to - there is no back-up option.

If Nini is thus obliged, Zhang Aijun is even more so. "In Xuanzang's journey to the West, it's not Nini but I who is Xuanzang," says Zhang Aijun. "I don't actually want to be Xuanzang, but Heaven has ordained me to play his role, so what can I do?"
[TN: Xuanzang was a Tang-dynasty monk who travelled to India to study Buddhism and bring back its teachings and scriptures to China. I guess she means she faces a dangerous journey to teach Nini/contribute to society.]

If everything goes as well as possible, Zhang Aijun intends to eventually be like Kim Yuna's mother, organising figure skating shows for her daughter. "I hope that day will come." Of course, the prerequisite for this is for Nini to at least win one World Championship title, while in order to stay in the running for the title, she needs to compete in in ISU Senior A competitions for at least two seasons.

Championship titles, gold medals - within human society these things always serve as convenient manifestations of people's various demands. Although to others Zhang Aijun talks like many athletes do, claiming she doesn't mind the colour of the medal, she knows that this is a profession where everyone strives to be the first. "When an athlete wins silver, I feel nothing." Zhang Aijun's voice catches in her throat. Nini sits nearby, long narrow eyes regarding her mother, an indifferent and detached expression on her small delicate features.

”At least for the first competition. For the second one I don't mind," says Zhang Aijun.

"But you'll still want it [gold],“ interjects Nini.

"Of course, I want it at least once," Zhang Aijun replies.

"But you'll still want it even after getting it once. You'll even want it a third time," says Nini again.

"Whatever you like to think," says Zhang Aijun.

"Because there's money to be made," retorts Nini.

"You - you're just like me. Such is my child, happy to be without anything except money. You've finally revealed my sore point," laughs Zhang Aijun, turning to the friend beside her.

Today on her birthday, Nini sprawls on the row of plush chairs in the lounge, chatting to another young girl. The two cover their mouth giggling, as though they are sharing secrets. Presently Nini stands up and mimics to the girl how a woman wearing lipstick eats food, after which they commiserate on their mutual dislike of applying lipstick. Today, Nini and the young girl chatted for around 25 minutes - a rare occurrence in Nini's life. Zhang Aijun sees Nini as a child who doesn't require the company of children her own age, because the true elite are solitary. "A lonely childhood is a must for leaders,” says Zhang Aijun. "They will forever be lonely souls." She believes that Nini's friends should be at least 20 years older than her. "Every person must enter the hierarchy of society ... To be a successful athlete and person, one must not mingle with peers of the same age, only with older, more experienced people."

In Zhang Aijun's eyes, so-called childhood peers are mostly 'useless things' who would only waste time. "Nini fights for the protection of animals and the raising of the national flag, how would hanging out with girl friends make her happy?" It is difficult to understand where Zhang Aijun's beliefs originate from. Nevertheless she is adamant that Nini needs to be alone. Indeed, this is how Nini has grown up, surrounded only by Zhang Aijun, An Longhe, teachers and coaches of various names, and cat(s).

When other children crowd by the mirror playing at taking selfies, Zhang Aijun forbids Nini to do the same. Though she [TN: unclear whether it's mother or daughter] hasn't spoken, Nini seems to have completely understood, merely glancing over but not joining in. Nobody knows what Nini might be thinking at this moment. Zhang Aijun believes that since she is the one raising Nini, Nini has become the same type of person as her.

Moreover, Nini doesn't actually have much time to socialise, since her life is occupied by training and rest. Zhang Aijun rarely spares time on anything else; she is not only Nini's 'officer' but also her nanny, chauffeur, manager, "every part of everything". These jobs have been ongoing for nearly 13 years.

Rest makes Zhang Aijun feel guilty - she and Nini rest for a maximum of two to three days per month. Usually off- and on-ice training together take up the first 5 hours of a day. Zhang Aijun then drives Nini to dance class and/or rhythmic gymnastics for another 3 to 7 hours of training. Altogether the travel time adds up to almost 100 km. After these classes, if time permits then they will go to the mall to eat and watch a movie - they'll go to the most expensive cinema. Zhang Aijun's reasoning for this is "only after experiencing the best will one cease to yearn or be greedy.“

After returning home at night, Nini must study academics [TN: literal term is 'cultural lessons' but it can refer to any subject taught in school, from science to humanities etc.] as well as do stretching and tissue mobilisation. However, when training is particularly intense, academics will be neglected. "It's too tiring, the only thing that can be sacrificed is academics." Zhang Aijun occasionally films Nini's skating and dance training, but also her petting cat(s) and cooking, and posts the videos online, telling people that her child can do other things apart from skating.

As part of her plan for building a public image, Zhang Aijun also nurtures Nini's manner of speaking - clasping a hand to her chest, she demonstrates to Nini how to softly ask "What's the matter?" - as well as how to behave politely. "Did you say thank you yet? When expressing thanks you should bow."

Today as they exit the rink lounge, Zhang Aijun tells her daughter not to complain about lacking time to herself, but rather to act for the good of the country, to strive for 'greater love' [TN: refers to unconditional love of all things, the sort that religious figures like the Buddha or Christ are supposed to have. Something like the Greek term 'agape'.] Nini listens silently.

Nini very often does things silently, whether sitting in the car seat scrolling through video clips of food on TikTok, retiring from the table to rest on the chairs at the back of the room, or navigating through the airport hall with her suitcase. She rarely talks back or raises requests, seemingly able to sort out everything by herself, always appearing tidy and prompt. Whenever others offer to help Nini on account of her being a child, Zhang Aijun always promptly refuses. For instance, when they offer to help Nini retrieve her luggage from a shelf taller than her own height, she responds "Let her do it herself."

Nini rarely responds to others' questions with the air of wanting to continue the conversation, rather merely answering out of politeness with a little smile, then falling silent. One knows that none of those unfailingly neat little smiles is a representation of her private emotions. However, while the average person might find such a mature air in a 12-year-old girl surprising, Zhang Aijun sees nothing out of the ordinary. "Nini's psychological age has long been that of someone in their thirties."

Zhang Aijun sometimes displays a surprising gaiety. Today after rhythmic gymnastics class they're driving to the cinema. In the driver's seat, Zhang Aijun teases Nini. "Nini, you're my grandmother, don't you think, Nini?" She twists around to face Nini who is sitting in the back, placing a hand on her knee. Nini covers it with her own hand, delighting Zhang Aijun. She says brightly to the person beside her [TN: the interviewer, I think] "Look, she's put her hand on mine."

Today at training, Zhang Aijun stands in the rink lounge. As she turns and sees Nini chatting idly with her young friends, she says reflexively "Oh geez, time for puberty!"

Zhang Aijun is unable to avoid a horror of her daughter's impending physical development. "There's no way of knowing what it will be like in future. It's very difficult to conquer. Because she's just a child who's never gone to school and has no other path available to her."

However, puberty is already upon Nini. She already looks like she's grown - even the commentator at the competition at Haila'er mentioned that Nini had become half a head taller within half a year. Time is of the essence, exactly as Zhang Aijun had once advised another mother: ”You must (have your child) quickly learn triples before their body grows heavy, you‘ve got to seize the moment, understand?“ "Growing heavy" is a female developmental change which in figure skating has always been a grave challenge for girls. Many high-ranked junior skaters have failed to achieve senior competitive success due to this. Notwithstanding Maria Butyrskaya's world championship title at the age of 27, the more commonplace scenario is for teenage girls to emerge as top contenders in their teens, but subsequently for various reasons become unable to overcome the hurdle of puberty, disappearing from the competitive arena. Zhang Aijun is very familiar with this matter and understands that her daughter needs to hurry to make technical breakthroughs before puberty hits, ideally completing all highly difficult elements between the age of 8 and 13. It's a race against time.

An Longhe plans for Nini to be able to jump the 3A by August 2020 ("the earlier the better"). However lately during training, An Longhe has sensed his daughter's fear - upon jumping, instead of completing 3.5 rotations in the air, Nini often pops the jump. "She just roughly marks the movement out before landing." An Longhe understands this fear, since compared to other jumps, the 3A requires much faster in-air rotation and uses more strength. Under these conditions, if there is a mistake the athlete will take a harder fall. However, there is no alternative - An Longhe must require his daughter to complete the jump.

Apart from these physical and developmental barriers, there are many other obstacles. Closer to their goal, there are still strong and hard-to-approach opponents. But Zhang Aijun, Nini and An Longhe have no other option - they must strive to bring back things that match up to their ambition and sacrifice.

As a normal day draws to a close and night descends, Zhang Aijun is about to cross the road. In a grey building on the other side of the road, Nini is currently taking a dance class. At this moment, a car drives towards her, contour blurred by the twilight, not bothering to sound its horn, intent only on moving forwards. Zhang Aijun jumps back hastily. "Just like how these cars never look where they're going, such is the rudeness of society."

In this society which Zhang Aijun refers to as 'dung', she and Nini are working for the blossoming of a pristine white flower. "The reason for our existence is to complete this process. Even if it might require grabbing onto a knife blade, we must seize our opportunities. Even if life is just a dream, isn't this so-called 'xiu1 xing2' still a beautiful thing nonetheless?" Zhang Aijun has already reached the foot of the stairs. "It's still meaningful even within a dream," she continues.

Night has already enveloped Zhang Aijun. A cold wind blows. Bright lamps border both sides of the street like the four corners of the heavens. Things that had appeared permanently immobile seem to dissolve in an instant. In this moment, the hairs of the ponytail at the back of Zhang Aijun's head float in the wind as though born to drift, tracing her indistinct silhouette as it retreats into the distance.

The end!
 

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Messages
459
Country
New-Zealand
The fact that Nini’s mom treats her family as a business, Nini as an asset - where this little girl is supposed to get warmth and support from?
:(

Indeed, that's the critical difference (and main source of concern) which differentiates her from a strict coach. I think as demanding as some coaches can be, at least the child can get some respite at home, or change coaches if it doesn't suit. It's impossible to choose or change one's mother...

I have hope that Nini will turn out alright psychologically, as long as she's eventually exposed to a wider variety of people with different experiences. I was a very results-driven, stressed-out teen (due to schooling, not parenting) but the last few years at uni really put things into perspective, so it's not too late to intervene at a later age. Perhaps a coaching change/spending more time away from her mother may help her, e.g. in making friends and building a healthier mindset.
 

icybear

Medalist
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Messages
1,055
It was dehumanising’: Jessica Shuran Yu condemns training abuse in China
https://amp.theguardian.com/sport/2...hina-figure-skating?__twitter_impression=true

All the issues she points out are common in other countries where elite skaters train. But for some reason she points the cause of the problem being the country's culture. What cultural reason is behind the sexual abuse in American athletes? Its not a nation specific problem. Its a widespread problem.
 

macy

you should see her in a crown
Record Breaker
Joined
Nov 12, 2011
Messages
2,502
this has disaster written all over it. that woman has mental issues, is extremely self centered and is a narcissist. this is all about her and not her child. imagine being a puppet for one of your parents.

as much as i would hate to see it happen, i have my bets on Nini being overtrained to the point of having a career ending injury before she even gets a shot at the olympics. and then what? she doesn't go to school, so she has little to no social or life skills and no education. what would happen to her if she were forced to stop skating? what would her mother do? would she harm herself or Nini? i don't have a doubt.

this mother has made detrimental choices for her child's well being and future. all for what...a world medal or olympic medal in a sport her child might not even like and will most likely hate by the time she is done? at the cost of mental and physical health, family, relationships, friends, love, education, and any sense of normalcy.
 

champagnerain

Final Flight
Joined
Feb 13, 2018
Messages
662
All the issues she points out are common in other countries where elite skaters train. But for some reason she points the cause of the problem being the country's culture. What cultural reason is behind the sexual abuse in American athletes? Its not a nation specific problem. Its a widespread problem.

I think it's a little more clear if you read her full statement (here), in which she, in fact, states that she knows it's not just a Chinese problem:

Also, abuse of athletes is so common in China I believed it to be a "cultural" thing. With recent allegations from American and British athletes, I realize it's not just a Chinese cultural thing but a toxicity that plagues aesthetic sports like gymnastics and figure-skating...
 

irisfsk8

Spectator
Joined
Oct 4, 2020
Messages
2
Part 2: (More about Nini's training, plus and a surprisingly large amount about her mother's childhood)

[TN: Just a word of warning about strong (censored) language plus some details which might be a bit triggering. On the other hand, Ms Zhang's bizarre explanations of her parenting approach veer towards the farcical (e.g. shooting off random references to self-castration and a warlord-era democracy advocate). Morbidly fascinating.]


As a new mother, Zhang Aijun at first had a mortal fear of losing her daughter. She was a beautiful child. "She looked so lovely as the moonlight shone on her." For a time, Zhang Aijun would think at least once a day, "How would I live if this child died?"

To learn what the experience of losing a child might be like, every day she read from the website of "Starry Harbour" (a charity that provides psychological support for bereaved parents/families), crying as she did so. However, this mood did not cause her to go easy on training her daughter. After completing her infanthood physical preparation, Nini went on the ice for the first time at 2 and a half years old. Zhang Aijun knew not to delay, since to be a professional skater one must begin between 3 to 6 years old - any later and the feeling for the ice would not develop.

The first time Nini skated was at Haotai Rink in Gaobeidian. Subsequently, she roved between various rinks in Beijing like a little bee: Wucaicheng, Dayuecheng, Qidi... However, shopping mall ice rinks are like playgrounds - nobody would be like Nini, preparing for serious skating competitions. Every afternoon the malls would become packed with people, forcing Zhang Aijun and An Longhe to take Nini and search for other places. Or else, the infrastructure would be old and run-down, for example obsolete refrigeration systems that, once broken, remained unrepaired for weeks on end, eternally interfering with Nini's already-limited training time.

If there really wasn't a session scheduled, Zhang Aijun would take Nini along and negotiate for ice. She would bribe the old uncle who resurfaced the ice with gifts, pleading with him to covertly turn on the rink's lights while his boss was away, to which he would often silently acquiesce. Still, at times he would scold her instead, "Scram!" This was not enough to deter Zhang Aijun, who was determined to get ice time for her daughter at all costs - axe-breaking, boat-burning courage had already become a habit for her. [TN: the proverb refers to soldiers who destroy their means of retreat/subsistence to force themselves to fight to the end - like the English 'burning bridges', but not quite.]

"I was already a bloody notorious woman by then!" says Zhang Aijun as she sits in on Nini's dance classes, reminiscing about an incident from Nini's early childhood. Around 5 or 6 years old, Nini was practising 8 hours a day. As time went by, rink regulars' tongues started wagging: "This child skates all day and never goes to school, she's growing on the ice!" [TN: either means growing up on the ice, or becoming permanently rooted on it like a plant growing on the earth.] They saw Zhang Aijun as a madwoman and an idler, otherwise what mother would let her child skate around all day instead of going to school? Others mocked: "No need to watch, the girl will be crippled by next year!" "An Xiangyi, if you practice like this, you'll be carried off in a stretcher in three days!"

Zhang Aijun maintains an intensity like that of military training. Thus, when people refer to mothers with strict demands of their children as 'tiger mums', she regards this as an overused stereotype [TN: I think 'chicken soup' is Chinese internet jargon for 'bandied about to the extent that it's meaningless', but am not sure.] She prefers the term 'officer' for herself. "Not in the sense of throwing grenades at her and ordering her to charge, I mean rather in the sense of being a commander. It's a bit like learning the Sunflower Manual, in that I sacrifice my motherly role in order to push this child forward." [TN: The Sunflower Manual is a reference from the 1960s wuxia novel "The Smiling Proud Wanderer", referring to a martial art that is powerful yet dangerous, and requires self-castration before it can be trained. Here she literally said she had castrated herself for her child's sake, so I interpreted it as a metaphor for sacrificing one's dignity/traditional gender role...]

This winter, Zhang Aijun is always wearing a pair of baggy black down pants, thick enough to help her withstand the cold of the rink. Zhang Aijun wears it like an army uniform. "I can at any time shout, laugh, show wrath, kick or hit her. Everything is under my control - it's extreme personality training." Just like that day, when Zhang Aijun increased Nini's programme runthroughs from 3 to 5 times, because she sensed that Nini was being reluctant.

"Go - five times! You must practice whether you want to or not!" Zhang Aijun shouted towards Nini. Though she knows that her child is not a machine and will put up a fight, Zhang Aijun's approach is that if her daughter shows displeasure at the training arrangements, she will increase this type of training. "It's how an officer trains the mindset of new recruits."

Nini mutters quietly, skating aimlessly back and forth on the rink. When Zhang Aijun notices, she raises her head, shouting again: "Cut the crap... always trying to be lazy... spin! [TN: literally 'revolve', may refer to jumps instead.] And after f***ing being done spinning, not even one successful attempt!" [TN: I'm not familiar with foul Chinese language as my dad is quite polite, sorry if this is inaccurate.]

Zhang Aijun had already begun this approach by the time Nini was 5 or 6 years old. "I controlled things very well," she said. "She was not allowed to cry... Every evening after 5 hours of training in the mall, I'd reward her with food, buy things for her such as books, let her freely download iPhone apps... basically, childhood development as usual." Zhang Aijun calls this a "U.S.-style upbringing".

Zhang Aijun became 'obsessed' with organising Nini's upbringing. "I felt the urge to train her to perfection. Everyone's like this - it's like an inquest, the deeper you go the more exciting it gets." She compares herself to Hu Shi's mother Feng Shundi. "The reason why Hu Shi was such a great person was because he had a great mother... I hit her because this is my duty towards society." [TN: Hu Shi was a literature professor and politician in post-Empire/pre-Communist China. He ended up fleeing with the Nationalists to Taiwan after the Civil War. I think she's just randomly name-dropping by this point.]

Presently, Zhang Aijun gives Nini another directive: "No matter how hard you might fall, all the moves must be done properly down to your fingertips." By this she doesn't mean to exert mechanical force through the fingertips, but rather to maintain a balletic attention to artistry. Thus, while skating, Nini needs to always arch her feet and point her ankles, letting movement extend through the knees and pelvis, up the spine and waist to reach the upper extremities and project beyond. This is where figure skating differs from other competitive sports; it is not about raw bursts of power but rather a combination jumps, spins, footwork and other diverse movements, and demands of athletes great physical, dance and musical ability.

The intense training finally began paying off when Nini was 5 years old. She won the children's group A event at a local skating competition, which was her first Olympics. [TN: Metaphorically.] After this, Nini gradually became the centre of attention - "the nation's hope" or "Chen Lu's successor", as netizens said after watching her at competitions.

At 11, Nini debuted in the senior division at skating competitions and in 2019 alone won three such events. However, for an 11-year-old to step on the ice as a senior competitor and skate to something like 'La La Land', she is obliged to draw upon her imitation skills [TN: for artistry/interpretation] and devote constant effort in training towards minimising the junior-ish qualities of her skating.

In 2014, after Nini competed at an all-Beijing skating competition, Zhang Aijun saw a comment: An Xiangyi has nothing apart from spins. "I bloody well couldn't accept that, could I?" Zhang Aijun said. "At 5 years old she jumps single axels and wins numerous championships, so what's the basis for saying that?!"

That night, Zhang Aijun sifted through the internet for more such comments, collecting them as she went through, getting angrier the more she read. She started putting 5 times more effort into training. There was a day when Nini trained for 12 hours "until she had a fever," Zhang Aijun said. "That time I had gone mad - the more criticism Nini received, the more I trained her, because I'm the sort of person who will not be defeated - I can't bear defeat, not even by a hair. I must have face [TN: roughly means to avoid shame/embarrassment]. I want to win."

Zhang Aijun's desire to win began when she was in the third year of primary school. Before this time, she had never been conscious of this fact. As the worst student in her class, she was often made to stay behind after school for remedial lessons. As she wrote 'a', o', 'e', the teacher said her 'a' was as skinny as a crescent moon. However, her 'ambitions' were more mature than her classmates.

She grew up in military housing - family life in her early childhood was far from warm and loving. Today on Nini's birthday, faced by a festive scene of fruit plates and cakes, Zhang Aijun remarks to a nearby friend "Our family didn't really know how to do this sort of stuff."

Throughout childhood, she had always battled her own sensitivity and insecurity. She had parents who were virtually invisible to her and a brother and sister more than 10 years her senior. Her sister resented their father's favouritism towards Zhang Aijun, deliberately neglecting her share of food when she cooked. Zhang Aijun was both hungry and angry, yet understood clearly that her sister was 'a great student' and 'a capable person'. Her brother in contrast was a delinquent young man who smoked and drank, liked to party with his 'bros' [TN: may mean criminal gang or just male friends], and would often grab her and lift her by the neck. These trivial incidents were seen as very serious by Zhang Aijun; she very clearly recalls that her sister called her 'ugly'.

At the same time, Zhang Aijun envied her siblings' lives and aspired to be like them, dancing, organising events, having a platform to perform on - but who would heed the needs of a child? Thus her aspirations for public attention remained unfulfilled, causing Zhang Aijun to feel lonely from an early age. "I would have given anything to be in the spotlight," she said.

Zhang Aijun learned the habit of desiring fame from her mother, who liked to be fashionable and filled the house with the latest trends, from coats to books. In 1978, attracted by the craze for foreign languages that followed China's economic re-opening to the outside world, her mother accumulated stashes of English, Japanese and French language books beneath the family's elmwood coffee table, but never ended up learning any of them. Zhang Aijun followed suit in chasing this trend, using pinyin [TN: system for representing Chinese phonetics in Latin alphabet, also used in transliterating foreign words] and radio broadcasts, to learn to sing 'I love the great Tiananmen of Beijing' in Japanese ("I was terribly fashionable back then.") Even now when Zhang Aijun mentions these things, she looks proud and excited.

Today on Christmas Eve 2019, in a nursing home in Beijing's Changping district, Zhang Aijun stands in the hallway, bending over to dissuade her wheelchair-bound mother who wants to return home with her. Outside is dark and snowy, while inside, warmth lingers on the table after lunch. Being elderly, her 92-year-old mother hears and speaks unclearly, thus Zhang Aijun often stoops closer to her mother's ear level.

Zhang Aijun was rarely this intimate with her mother as a child, as her mother was career-oriented. Her mother would leave the house at 5 am to take the tram to work, and return after her daughter had gone to bed. However, the events of bygone days do not prevent Zhang Aijun from understanding why her mother wants to leave the nursing home - it's because she prefers independence to the comforts of the nursing home.

When the Tangshan Earthquake struck [TN: in 1976, infamously killed 250,000 people], when her bed started shaking in the early hours of the morning, her mother burst in and carried Zhang Aijun to safety. "My mother really is a hero," she recalls approvingly. It was this incident that drove home to her that "ultimately, she is a good mother.”

She recalls that it was her father that brought light to her childhood: taking her for rides, swimming, on farm visits, carrying her on his back and crawling around the house. During parental committee meetings at school, it was always he who attended.

Some matters are already long past, yet Zhang Aijun unerringly remembers an instance one year when she caused her father to break traffic rules resulting in him being scolded by the teacher, and her resultant guilt.

Chafing at the restraint of boarding school, that same winter she took a 10 yuan bill stolen from her father and a box of coins that she had saved, and ran off with another girl to Zizhuyuan Garden, playing on the slides and swings. Trouble came at day's end when she got a sound beating from her father, a scolding from the teacher, and was demoted to a lower class [TN: Like some other countries, China does class streaming based on student ranking.] From then on, a sense of shame and defiance entered her consciousness. [TN: boarding school in China is common and not posh like in the West, just basic food and dormitories. Can be necessary if the family lives in a rural area or can't afford housing in a good schooling zone.]

Zhang Aijun only gained 'enlightment' in 3rd year, when an essay she part-wrote, part-plagiarised was praised publicly as a "distinguished work" by the teacher, who set as a model example. This was her first taste of 'victory': such a sweet feeling, being number one! When her father was praised for his daughter's achievements at the parents' committee, Zhang Aijun understood - to be the first in class and excel academically, she would be able to bring him honour. She would not permit any blow to this honour - later when she didn't manage to be top of the class, she privately slapped herself in the face. Now, Zhang Aijun sees her daughter through the same lens:

"When she sees me cry or get angry, or be scolded by others, Nini feels sad. She would fight to the death for my honour - such are children's emotions towards their parents."

Will continue in the weekend when I'm free again...
I was wondering - as names are so important to Chinese - what does 'Nini' mean?
 

Flying Feijoa

On the Ice
Joined
Sep 22, 2019
Messages
459
Country
New-Zealand
I was wondering - as names are so important to Chinese - what does 'Nini' mean?
It's a pet name, so doesn't really mean much, apart from sounding cute. According to Baidu some people use it as a nickname for clingy little girls. BTW not everyone has a pet name, most people I know just have abbreviations of their official names as nicknames.

Her proper given name is more meaningful ('Xiang' is fragrant and 'yi' is happy). Even though her mum picked the 'xiang' character because it's found in many Japanese female skaters' names, it doesn't look unusual for a typical feminine Chinese name. My own (and my brother's) are much more androgynous :devil:
 
Top