Doping in China

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), conducted a state sanctioned doping programme on athletes in the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of revelations of Chinese doping have focused on swimmers. The doping programme has been explained as a by-product of the "open door" policy which saw the rapid expansion within China of modern cultural and technological exchanges with foreign countries.[1]

Bioethicist Maxwell J. Mehlman in his 2009 book The Price of Perfection, states that "In effect China has replaced East Germany as the target of Western condemnation of state-sponsored doping".[2] Mehlman quotes an anthropologist as saying that "When China became a 'world sports power', American journalists found it all too easy to slip China into the slot of the 'Big Red Machine' formally occupied by Eastern bloc teams".[2]

Weightlifting, 1997

One early revelation of the issue of doping in China came in the aftermath of the women's weightlifting competition at the 1997 edition of the country's National Games. Two Americans, conservative pundit Steve Sailer and sports physiologist Stephen Seiler, noted that "tough drug testing is politically impossible" at the Games, and summarized the events there:[3]
The 1997 Games in Shanghai were such a bacchanal of doping that all 24 women's weightlifting records were broken, but weightlifting's governing officials had the guts to refuse to ratify any of these absurd marks.

Chinese swimming performances in the 1990s

In 1992 the number of Chinese swimmers in the top 25 world rankings soared from a plateau of less than 30 to 98, with all but 4 of the 98 swimmers female. Their improvement rate was much better than could have been expected as a result of normal growth and development. China subsequently performed beyond expectations to win 12 gold medals at the 1994 World Aquatics Championships amid widespread suspicions of doping.[4] Chinese swimmers won 12 of 16 gold medals at the 1994 championships and set five world records.[5]

Between 1990 and 1998, 28 Chinese swimmers tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, almost half the world total of drug offenders in sport.[5] Seven swimmers tested positive for steroids at the Asian Games in Hiroshima in late 1994, these positive tests badly affected the squad to the extent that it won only one swimming gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.[4] Following the revelations of doping among Chinese swimmers at the Hiroshima games IOC Medical Commission chairman Alexandre de Mérode discounted the possibility of officially sanctioned Chinese doping stating that the results were "accidents that could happen anywhere".[6] Chinese leaders initially blamed racist sports officials in Japan for manufacturing test results.[6] A report by a joint International Swimming Federation and Olympic Council of Asia delegation to Beijing in 1995 concluded that "there is no evidence that the Chinese are systematically doping athletes".[6] The revelations led to Australian, American, Canadian and Japanese sports officials voting against Chinese participation at the 1995 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.[6] In 1995 the Chinese People's Daily newspaper published an anti-doping policy and proclaimed an official prohibition on performance enhancing substances.[6]

China improved in swimming until 1998 when four more positive tests and the discovery of human growth hormone (HGH) in the swimmer Yuan Yuan's luggage at the 1998 World Aquatics Championships in Perth, Australia.[2][4] In the routine customs check on the swimmer's bag, enough HGH was discovered to supply the entire women's swimming team for the duration of the championships.[4] Only Yuan Yuan was sanctioned for the incident, with speculation that this was connected to the nomination of Juan Antonio Samaranch by China for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.[2] Tests in Perth found the presence of the banned diuretic masking agent triamterine in the urine of four swimmers, Wang Luna, Yi Zhang, Huijue Cai and Wei Wang.[5] The swimmers were suspended from competition for two years, with three coaches associated with the swimmers, Zhi Cheng, Hiuqin Xu and Zhi Cheng each suspended for three months.[5]

Zhao Jian, the deputy director-general of the China Anti-Doping Agency described the 1998 World Aquatic Championships as a "bad incident", and said that it had led to China adopting a tougher attitude towards drug testing, with drug testing removed from the main sports administration and placed in a separate agency.[4]

The Hiroshima games also saw a hurdler, a cyclist and two canoeists test positive for the steroid dihydrotestosterone.[7]

Chen Zhangho and Xue Yinxian revelations

In a July 2012 interview published by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, Chen Zhangho, the lead doctor for the Chinese Olympic team at the Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona Olympics told of how he had tested hormones, blood doping and steroids on about fifty elite athletes.[4] Chen also accused the United States, the Soviet Union and France of using performance-enhancing drugs at the same time as China.[4] Chen also blamed foreign experts for "lying" to the Chinese about the effectiveness of doping, saying he and others "blindly believed them like fools".[4] The Chinese officials eventually concluded that training was the key to performance and that taking drugs did not guarantee this.[4]

Chen said that half of the athletes found doping effective and half did not, adding that he had steered away from growth hormones to steroids because they were cheaper.[4] Chen said he was governed by three principles, that the athlete took the substances voluntarily, that no harm was caused and that they were effective.[4]

Xue Yinxian, former chief doctor for the Chinese gymnastics team, had previously told the newspaper that official use of steroids and growth hormone was "rampant" in the 1980s.[4] Xue claimed that steroids and human growth hormones were officially treated as part of "scientific training", and athletes often did not know what they were being injected with.[4] Xue did not allege that all Chinese athletes used drugs and has refrained from naming individual athletes.[4]

Individual Chinese doping cases


  1. ^ Jinxia Dong (2003). Women, Sport, and Society in Modern China: Holding Up More Than Half the Sky. Psychology Press. pp. 153–. ISBN . Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d Maxwell J. Mehlman (21 May 2009). The Price of Perfection: Individualism and Society in the Era of Biomedical Enhancement. JHU Press. pp. 134–. ISBN . Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Sailer, Steve; Seiler, Stephen (1997-12-31). "Track & Battlefield". National Review. Retrieved 2012-11-03. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Chinese Olympians subjected to routine doping". Sydney morning Herald. 2012-07-28. Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  5. ^ a b c d Cecil Colwin (2002). Breakthrough Swimming. Human Kinetics. pp. 213–. ISBN . Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Thomas Mitchell Hunt (2007). Drug Games: The International Politics of Doping and the Olympic Movement, 1960—2007. ProQuest. pp. 148–. ISBN . Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  7. ^ Andrew Jennings (1996). The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption and How to Buy Gold Medals. Pocket Books. p. 233. ISBN . Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "Disgraced Wu banned". BBC News Online. 2000-07-18. Retrieved 2012-07-29. 
  9. ^ "China's Li Zhesi Tests Positive for EPO". Swimming World Magazine. 2012-06-09. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
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