The Great Women Of China
June 13, 2008, 06:37 AM
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A commenter here once pointed out that to be a successful journalist, it helps to be very curious but not very smart. From the Wall Street Journal:

The Great Women of China

BEIJING — Here is China's secret formula for topping the Olympic medal tally: two X chromosomes.

WSJ's Mei Fong reports that Chinese women athletes consistently outperform their male counterparts. She explores the reasons why.

In China, it's the women who have traditionally racked up the medals. At the 2000 Games in Sydney, the Chinese women won five more gold medals than the men. In Athens in 2004, the women won 19 gold medals, while the men won 12. By comparison, American women accounted for 12 of the nation's 35 gold medals in 2004.

Although many Chinese athletes have yet to qualify for their 2008 Olympic berths, women are widely expected to outdo the men again this summer. Wrestling coach Zhang Zhetian says the country's best odds for a wrestling medal lie with the women's team. His reasoning? Women work harder. "Guys — you've got to push them more," he says.

"Women know how to eat bitterness," says tennis coach Sun Jinfang. (The saying "chi ku," or "eat bitterness," in China denotes a willingness to suffer and endure back-breaking work.) Ms. Sun has helped usher four doubles players into the Women's Tennis Association's top 30; no male Chinese tennis players are world-ranked.

The disparity is apparent at Beijing's Xiannongtan Sports School, where boys and girls train separately under bright red banners with messages like, "Grow in Painful Struggle and Develop in Spurts."

In the women's ping pong hall, the tables are newer and slightly fancier than in the men's section, splashed with logos of sponsors such as Japanese company Mizuno Corp. There are no visible logos on the men's side. Xiannongtan's director Hu Xiaobing said the female ping pong players attract more money and sponsors.

Academics say China has long held a historical reverence for strong women …

Yes, that's why all the Chinese actresses in Wong Kar-Wai movies like "In the Mood for Love" wear such loose-fitting skirts: to provide room for their Michelangeloesque thigh muscles.

There's a much simpler explanation: Communist countries, such as East Germany, the Soviet Union, and now China, usually do proportionally better in women's events. (Cuba, under the macho Castro's rule, might be an exception to this pattern.) Why? Because it's easier to win women's events, so governments that judge themselves by their Olympic medals totals put disproportionate emphasis on women's events.

If you want to win a medal in a men's event, you've got to beat a whole bunch of men from around the world who really like the idea of being the World's Greatest Whatever at some stupid competition. If, on the other hand, you want to win a medal in some women's event, other than sexy dance-like events such as figure skating or rhythmic gymnastics, you mostly only have to beat women from societies who push women into those events.

In particular, you can get more bang from your buck with doping female athletes with artificial male hormones, since men have so much of the natural kind.