Author: Ms. Roberts; PR: Patrick
Soccer fans have vivid memories of the games around the turn of the Millennium. It was the time of amazing players such as Rivaldo, Zidane, Figo, and Beckham. There were great teams as well…Who could forget the magnificent Manchester United where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sealed the famous triple as Alex Ferguson chewed gum on the side-line?
Later in 2002, we witnessed one of the best World Cups in living memory. This is not my opinion, but the actual result of many polls across the soccer world. In many ways, the 2002 World Cup belongs to Asia. It was the first World Cup ever held in Asia, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan. They also both gave some surprises. Japan topped their qualifying group against the powerhouse Belgium.
South Korea made it all the way to the Semi-Final, and do not forget China; she was there!
It is hard to grasp the excitement of this to fans outside Asia. This was almost twenty years ago at a time Chinese players didn’t enjoy star status nor receive ridiculously big paychecks. Certainly not in the time of bold proclamations from Emperor Xi – who fully expects China to win the World Cup by 2050! No, in 2002, most of the soccer world had no idea China even played soccer. To the Chinese, this was always an unfair statement. There is a strong argument that not only did China play football – they might have even invented it. The World governing body of soccer or real football as some insist, FIFA – states on their website:
“The first indications of an early formal form of football date back 3,000 years to Ancient China. A game played with a ball of animal skins stuffed with hair or feathers was kicked between poles some 10 meters high and was most likely used for military training. By 50AD, the game was named “tsu chu” (or “cuju”), and early records compare the round ball and square goal to Yin and Yang, the ancient symbols of harmony.” (FIFA).
Long story short, the Chinese did indeed play soccer. Furthermore, Chinese fans followed their teams and star players are household names. One such team was the Dalian Shide of the 90s and 00s. Between 1994 and 2005, this team won the Chinese top division champion 8 times. The most famous player was Hao Haidong. The all-time high scorer for the Chinese National Team was a force to be reckoned with. His powerful and physical style of play drew comparisons to Premier League players and earned him the nickname ‘Chinese Alan Shearer.’
It is well agreed that Hao is the key person who helped China reach their first World Cup. Although China did not fare too well in the tournament being grouped alongside powerhouses Turkey and Brazil, Mr. Hao cemented the stature of a national hero. The story of his success couldn’t possibly have been better. Hao was the product of the most idolized institutions of the CCP – the People’s Liberation Army. He began his career playing for Bayi (81) team (PLA was founded on August 1st) before moving on to stardom with Dalian Shide and the national team. It is hard to imagine a better model citizen for the media and the Party. A perfect hero of their creation.
However, Hao Haidong is a hero no more! Like some villain from Harry Potter, he has become: “he who must not be named.”
In a classic CCP style, all mention of this once glorious national Hero has now been purged. Such purging is nothing new in a communist state. Before there was the Internet, the paranoid Stalin used to airbrush former heroes out of official pictures. Of course, that was a treatment reserved for influential figures or former allies. Those most undesirables would simply be sent to the Gulags or vanished. The CCP is also a fan of such tactics, but it becomes altogether more difficult when the subject is a national icon. Not that it will stop them from trying, though! As of now, his Weibo account has already been scrubbed and most searches of his name turn up the dreaded ‘404’. The few media that do make mention of him simply call him “Mr. H.”
What could Mr. H possibly have done to deserve such a treatment? The answer is simple: he has his own opinion. Much like the boisterous players of the Premier League he was often compared to, Hao Haidong has never shied away from controversy. He was always adamant that the sorry state of soccer in China had less to do with Chinese players’ ability. Instead, he blamed the corruption and red tapes in the Chinese system itself. He was also vocal against foreign players’ forced naturalization for them to play for the National team, as happened with Brazilian striker Elkeson. However, though certainly not a conformist – Hao Haidong said nothing that would anger the CCP. Until recently, that is.
On June 4th, 2020, Hao Haidong and his wife (Badminton Starlet Ye Zhaoying) appeared on a live stream that called for the abolition and overthrowing of the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, he showed support for both Guo Wengui and his broad vision for the establishment of the New Federal State of China. Hao decried the severity of corruption in China, particularly in sports. He also mentioned the brutality of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The fact that such a national icon would call for the abolition of the CCP was too much for the censors to bear.
Indeed, much like the purges mentioned above, there is speculation that the CCP may have extended their punishment to encompass Hao Haidong’s immediate family. Mr. Hao’s son, Hao Runze, was dropped from Serbian team Radnicki Nis a week after his father’s comments. If that’s not obvious enough, one only needs to remember that Serbia is a well-known CCP ally who openly displays communist propaganda posters with “Thank you, Brother Xi!” in their capital Belgrade. Another thing to remember is that the Party commonly utilizes the mantra of ‘Sins of the Father.’ Indeed, Emperor Xi himself would know all about this. His own family house was ransacked, his sister committed suicide, and he was banished and forced to live in a cave all because the Party disapproved of his father, Xi Zhongxun.
But let us not occupy ourselves with these comparisons. The truth is that Hao Haidong did not commit any crime. He only refused to kowtow. The most powerful letter, ‘H’, is History. And History has shown that short term suffering is often the price to pay for those who take a stand.