Soccer superstar stuns China with call for ouster of Communist Party
Chinese sports stars usually express thanks and offer platitudes about their government – if they address politics and power at all.
Not Hao Haidong.
The retired soccer forward, the Chinese national team’s all-time top goal scorer and an idol in the 1990s and early 2000s, stunned his country this week after he called for the downfall of the ruling Communist Party and the formation of a new government.
In a highly unusual YouTube appearance as part of an apparent publicity campaign by the fugitive billionaire Guo Wengui, one of the Chinese government’s most reviled opponents, Hao read an 18-point manifesto for a vision of a “New Federal State of China.” Sitting for an accompanying hour-long interview alongside his wife, the badminton champion Ye Zhaoying, Hao launched into lengthy criticisms of the government’s handling of almost every domestically sensitive subject: Hong Kong, Tibet, the covid-19 pandemic.
“This Communist Party should be kicked out of humanity,” Hao declared in the videos released Thursday, on the politically sensitive anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Coming from an international athlete, Hao’s comments would be fiercely criticized by the Chinese government. Coming from a Chinese soccer legend, they were unthinkable, almost disorienting.
By Thursday afternoon, Hao’s videos had caused a sensation in China even though they appeared on YouTube, a blocked platform. They seemed to confound Internet users and authorities alike. Was the entire episode fake? Should it be condemned or ignored?
Titan, a leading state-run sports website, quickly issued a statement that said “Hao Haidong has made speech that subverts the government and harms national sovereignty and uses the coronavirus epidemic to smear the Chinese government and spread falsehoods about Hong Kong . . . we strongly condemn this behavior.”
Shortly after, the statement was edited to replace Hao’s name, which had become sensitive, with the Roman letter “H.” Hours after that, the statement was removed outright as the government opted erase all mention of the incident on the domestic Internet as if it never happened.
Hao’s Weibo social media account, which had close to 8 million followers, vanished. Hupu, a leading online hangout for Chinese sports fans, warned users against all discussion of Hao’s “harmful remarks.” Read more