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'Yindu Jiayou': Anti-India bias shows through at Asian Games, but China makes up in other ways

While hostile crowds made the task hard for Indian athletes at the Asian Games, translation and navigation challenges put up similar problems for Indian journalists. But there were some moments when India and China stood as one.

Yindu Jiayou: Anti-India bias shows through at Asian Games, but China makes up in other ways

India at the Asian Games closing ceremony (AGNS)


Dipankar Lahiri

Updated: 11 Oct 2023 3:15 AM GMT

Hangzhou: And just like that, it's over. Some Asian Games medal winners are already on their way to their next events, like the National Open Athletics Championships in Bengaluru from Wednesday, and the journalists who had congregated here for the last three weeks are on their way back to India. Sports, except that cash cow which was (some might say needlessly) given an entry into the Asian Games this time, will continue to be played in obscurity again, probably till the Paris Olympics.

As the closing ceremony started at least two hours before the scheduled time of 8 pm at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Stadium on Sunday night, and those who had presumably not been able to make it to the final programme entertained the crowd, it was a reminder of how much work goes on behind the scenes - of the effort put in by the scores of people who do not make it.

Whether the coaches, physios, and managers whose tireless efforts will not be remembered as long as the historic medals won by the athletes, whether the staff at the Asian Games media village who made staying in China an experience to savour forever, whether the journalists back in India who kept fans informed with their perspective even when things seemed beyond perspective - like when Indian and Iranian kabaddi players decided to engage in a sitting competition in the gold medal match - not all the heroes will have medals around their necks as the curtain falls on arguably India's most successful multi-sports outing.


The biggest eye-opener about sports in China is how personally the country takes its athletes - and not just in one sport, even though racquet sports seem to bring out the most passionate emotions in fans, as well as the most elaborate stadium architecture.

'Jiayou!' - if there is one word that will remain ringing in collective ears many years after the Hangzhou Asian Games, it is this. A word literally translating to 'add oil', this is the all-purpose cheer heard at every stadium - sometimes like a whisper, sometimes like a roar.

'Li Shi Feng', one particularly loud voice would shout out for example in the badminton arena. Twenty thousand voices would reply in unison - 'Jiayou!' As the noise would reverberate around the cauldron-shaped stadiums, the opponents of Chinese players could hardly be blamed for dropping their shoulders, for wanting to escape as quickly as possible.

Add to this that at most venues, Indians had next to zero crowd support. A few 'Bharat Mata Ki's were heard at some of the cricket matches, but in most sports, it seemed to be India against the world. Even Saudi Arabia, much further away from here than India, seemed to enjoy home support in the all-important men's football quarterfinal.

Two moments - or rather two Jiayous - stand out. The day after an officiating controversy involving an attempted disqualification of Jyothi Yarraji became front-page news in Chinese newspapers, there was one moment which threw all the Indians off their feet at the Athletics stadium.

As Tejaswin Shankar competed in the gruelling decathlon, the stadium announcer whispered - 'Yindu Jiayou!' - literally translating to 'Come on, India!'

The crowd followed. For five minutes, it was as if China was collectively apologising to India for Jyothi, for Bhavani Devi, for the unnatural draws in boxing, and for the unnaturally partisan support of all of India's opponents till then.

If this might have seemed a bit mechanical as it needed the stadium announcer's prodding, there was another surprise in store on the final day of medal events, as Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty came onto the court in the men's doubles gold medal match against their Korean opponents. This time, it was purely instinctive. A packed stadium of 20,000 people sang out without prodding - 'Yindu Jiayou!'

Even as the chant died down and the players prepared to serve, a stray child's voice carried on - 'Yindu Jiayou.'

Interactions between Indian and Chinese people can often be stilted, sometimes tilting to robot-like amiability or sometimes to hostility against the outsider - depending on how far one is from the Asian Games venues where staff has presumably been sensitised well in advance - but when it comes to children, no boundaries exist.

Untrained in both etiquette and political awareness, Chinese children give embarrassed smiles when caught doing something silly, like dancing inside a metro, but do it again, watching from the corner of their eye to make sure their silliness is not going unobserved. Their eyes become sad when their solitary audience prepares to deboard the metro.

An Asian Games-themed metro


China is overflowing with technology that seems to be from the future, but for some reason, none of it is as effective as it could be. Even if the challenges of there not being any direct flights from India and no financial transactions being possible through Indian banks are put down to things beyond control, the imperfect use of technology is hard to fathom.

One of the crazes here at the opening of the Games was the robot helpers, which would go around the media centre without offering much help, even though the human volunteers more than made up for their ineffectiveness. Then there were the robot dogs at the Athletics venue, which were designed to carry back discuses and javelins to the throwers after they had landed.

If only the robot dogs had a way of measuring the mark Neeraj Chopra had reached with his first throw...let alone if the human officials present at the spot could measure his throw using tapes, as the world has done for years.

The ludicrous phenomenon of uber-cool technology being present without being able to solve problems (that have been solved for years already) exists outside stadiums too. At some shops, an electronic pen is brought out to translate English text into Chinese. But the exercise seems futile as this translation does not seem to work the other way around - the language barrier remains as strong as without the use of the pen.

Lost in translation

Despite the translation apps and the eagerness of volunteers to help, navigating around China for a first-timer can be alternatively frustrating and entertaining. Due to the imperfect locations on online maps, venues that are within a 20-minute walk are shown to be a 7-hour walk, despite volunteers' best efforts. While asking for directions on foot, hand motions do not seem to be as much in vogue here as in India, the locals seem to need to be very specific with their directions or stay silent.

Literal translations to English on signboards often turn out to be amusing. A signboard leading to a parking area advertises it as a 'dirty area', and a portable toilet is labelled 'civilised style', leading to fears of what the alternative could have been. The words for 'please' and 'thank you' seem to be the same - 'Xie Xie' - further adding to the confusion.

But the problem in communication can be exasperating too. Like soft tennis player Jay Meena found out, when his deliberations with officials continued till midnight on the day before his men's singles quarterfinal, simply because neither side could get their point across.

Asking for directions to metro stations draws a complete blank, as the word does not exist in the Chinese lexicon. Asking for the subway station can sometimes bring better luck.

Brothers in censorship

As of 2023, the World Press Freedom Index ranks China as the country with the second least press freedom in the world after North Korea. Consequently, some of the best-known Indian media websites are blocked here, leaving some of India's top journalists without access to the pieces they were filing from Hangzhou. Some demanded that their pieces be taken photos of and sent to them, some others decided to leave fate in the hands of their editors.

There are more than 66,000 rules controlling the content that is available to people using search engines in China, according to a report by Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research group at the University of Toronto, earlier this year. The search engines operate on algorithms to 'hard censor' searches deemed to be politically sensitive by providing no results or by limiting the results to selected sources, which are usually government agencies.

The most bizarre news on censorship surrounding the Asian Games, however, was when a photo of two Chinese hurdlers was censored because it made an inadvertent reference to the Tiananmen Square massacre - a search query that refuses to return results here.

The two hurdlers had embraced each other, but because their race numbers were 6 and 4 and the embrace formed the number 64, an inadverdent reference to the 4th June incident of 1989 when Chinese troops shot dead hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing, posts which included the photo were replaced with grey squares last Monday.

A day later, news emerged from New Delhi that police had raided the homes of prominent journalists and authors in connection with an investigation into alleged Chinese funding of news website NewsClick. One of the questions reportedly posed to the arrested editors of the independent news website was an allegation of them trying to show Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed territory on maps.

The three wushu players from that state who could not come to China for the Asian Games might have been among those following this development, but one thing was clear from this coincidence of news events - India and China might not agree on a lot of things, but the second worst country and the 19th worst country in terms of press freedom are united on their stance on what people should write and shoot.

The rise and rise of Indian sports

The best-ever medal haul for India does not give a complete picture of how dominant the contingent has been in certain sports. Like China and the USA are known to do in some sports, India managed a clean sweep of gold medals in three sports this time - Compound Archery, Cricket, and Kabaddi.

In Athletics and Shooting, India finished second only behind China.

Rohit Brijnath, a veteran Indian sports journalist now in his 60s and based in Singapore - who had once been referred to as the 'best Indian sportswriter by a long margin' by Harsha Bhogle, had his focus on his current country's star athlete Shanti Perreira, but also kept one eye on the new generation of Indians following in his footsteps.

"In the 1980s and 1990s, covering Indian sports was a sad affair. Everywhere we went, we used to lose and come back home. People working now in Indian sports journalism are so lucky, there are so many victories to write about," he said with a laugh before rushing off as Perreira, whose father is Indian, came into the mixed zone.

The climax of the Asian Games, in many ways, was Neeraj Chopra's defence of his gold medal, especially since for a rare time in his career, Neeraj had to fight back in the later rounds. The fightback was admirable, as was Neeraj's praise of his closest competitor, Kishore Jena, but as he jumped onto the podium to receive his gold, it was hard not to get the sense that this fairytale too would end one day.

Maybe it was because Neeraj's event meant that Athletics was over and only a few more days of action would be left, maybe because of how it seemed for almost half of his event that it might turn out to be a disappointing day, it seemed easy to look into the future to a day (hopefully not in this decade) when Neeraj will have to be celebrated as an ageing star as he jumps onto the podium, but maybe at the bronze medal spot.

At the closing ceremony on Sunday night, many foreign journalists - including Indians - were being apprehended by Chinese journalists to speak about how the Asian Games experience has been.

The Asian Games media village

'Zai jian (goodbye) Hangzhou', one of them encouraged an Indian to say to the cameras, much to the Indian's amusement. But as the Indian walked back to the Asian Games village for one last time and the wooden bridge over the Qiantang river sparkled with electronic lights in the distance, the Indian found himself muttering over and over - 'Zai jian Hangzhou'.

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