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China excels at the Paralympics, but its disabled citizens are fighting for access


3rd January 2021

China excels at the Paralympics, but its disabled citizens are fighting for access

By Emily Feng

Heard on All Things Considered



China has dominated the medal count at the last five consecutive Paralympic Games. Beijing is hosting the next Paralympics this coming March. So why do the country's athletes with disabilities excel? NPR's Emily Feng reports.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: China's first-ever Paralympic medalist got her start because of a brawl. It was 1982, and Ping Yali was working in a Beijing rubber factory when another woman took a swing at her.

YALI PING: (Through interpreter) I saw the woman and the man fighting, so I went to protect the woman, but she punched me instead. I was young and hotheaded, so I jump into the fray.

FENG: Luckily for her, at that very moment, a group of government inspectors was touring her factory. They were looking for athletes to fill the country's first-ever Paralympic team.

PING: (Through interpreter) One of the officers saw me throw a punch and thought my movements were very lively and my form quite good.

FENG: They recruited Ping, and she began training in sprints and, later, the long jump. Ping is blind, though she can sense light just enough to stay somewhat oriented on a track and field pitch. In 1984, she flew to Los Angeles to compete in China's first-ever Paralympic Games. And she won gold, the first Chinese athlete to do so.

PING: (Through interpreter) I hugged my coach with open arms and began shouting to him in joy, which embarrassed my coach, who tried to push me away.

FENG: Ping's win spurred China to spend more money on Paralympic training. Here's Susan Brownell, an anthropology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who studies big sporting events.

SUSAN BROWNELL: China sort of was always behind disabled athletes as an acceptable symbol of China's modernity and of its morality and its ethics and its - you know, that the government cares for the people, I think, was a point.

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