Why are iconic American brands Cadillac, Tiffany's and Visa still throwing money at Californian-born skier Eileen Gu, 18, who turned her back on Team USA to compete for China at 2022 Winter Olympics and handed Beijing a propaganda gift?
- Eileen Gu, 18, will represent China at the Beijing Winter Olympics later this month
- The teenager grew up in San Francisco with her Chinese-national mother Yan
- Her father, who has never been named, is believed to be American
- In 2019, Gu - aged 15 - announced her plan to compete for China at the Games
- She said she wanted to inspire a generation of young girls in China to get into skiing - a fast expanding sport
- It's unclear if she has renounced her American citizenship; China does not recognize dual nationality
- It is impossible for minors under the age of 16 to renounce American citizenship
- Gu still spends a large portion of time in the US; she has deals with Tiffany's, Victoria's Secret and Cadillac
- She is also 'everywhere' in China, where she is known as Gu Ailing or 'the snow princess'
Iconic American brands like Tiffany's and Cadillac continue to sponsor Californian skier Eileen Gu, the poster girl of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics despite her turning her back on Team USA to instead represent China and promote the Games for them worldwide.
The 18-year-old was born and raised in San Francisco where she attended high school. She has also won a place to study at Stanford. Her mother Yan is a first-generation Chinese immigrant and her father, reportedly American, has never been publicly named.
Despite competing as an American for most of her youth career in freestyle skiing, Gu will this year compete at the Olympics for China and she is now promoting the event for the Chinese, narrating videos online and appearing in commercials.
She made the decision in 2019 at the age of 15, claiming at the time she wanted to inspire a generation of young Chinese girls to pursue winter sports - which are comparatively less celebrated and glamorous in Asia than in the US.
It is unclear now where Gu's American citizenship stands - China does not recognize dual citizenship and minors under the age of 16 cannot renounce their US citizenship because they are not deemed mature enough to make the decision. Gu's reps will not confirm whether or not she has given up her American citizenship, or if China has asked her to.
While choosing to represent China - where she is known as 'Gu Ailing', 'the snow princess' and has 1.3million on Weibo - she maintains significant sponsorship deals from American brands like Cadillac, Tiffany's, Visa, Therabody, Victoria's Secret and Oakley.
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After touching down in China last week, Eileen Gu delighted fans on Weibo - where she has 1.3million followers - with a picture of her sitting down to a meal of dumplings
Gu is pictured with her Chinese mother, Yan. She was born in San Francisco and grew up there. Her father, reportedly American, has never been named publicly
In 2019, at the age of 15, Gu announced plans to compete for China at the Olympics, and not the US. She said she wanted to inspire a generation of Chinese youngsters at the Beijing Games
In interviews, she doesn't seem to recognize or discuss the huge conflict of representing one of America's longest-standing foes while still cashing in on her celebrity.
'When I'm in America, I'm American. When I'm in China, I'm Chinese,' Gu, who speaks fluent Mandarin, said in an interview with Red Bull's Bulletin recently.
It's unclear if the brands are aware of the conflict either - or if they are choosing to ignore it.
When she touched down in Beijing last week, Gu went on Weibo to tell fans she'd just finished a plate of dumplings.
Gu's decision to abandon Team USA and compete for China seems to be down to the speed at which skiing is expanding as a celebrity sport there.
When China was awarded the Winter Games in 2015, the country announced plans to open at least 800 new ski resorts.
Gu - who had grown up in San Francisco but traveled every year to China as a child - said she wanted to be part of that growth.
'In the beginning, I knew every single person in the park because there were only 10 or 20 of us in the whole country. Now it’s the trendiest place to be.
'In the US, I grew up with all these idols and I wanted to be that for somebody else,' she said in an interview with Red Bull.
She has made no public comment or acknowledgement of how China treats its athletes, much less of the long-standing tension between the US and China.
Gu still enjoys partnerships with American brands like Tiffany's, Cadillac, Victoria's Secret and Visa
In a recent Instagram post, Gu tagged her partners and sponsors. They include Beats by Dr Dre, Faction Skis, Oakley, Cadillac, Visa and Therabody. She is also sponsored by the Swiss company IWC watches
Gu is one of Victoria's Secret new ambassadors. She was signed after she announced her decision to compete for China
Eileen Gu at the Met Gala in September. She thanked Victoria's Secret and Tiffany's for sending her to the event, along with Anna Wintour for inviting her
Her mother Yan, who travels with her on private jets to sporting competitions and fashion shows, did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com's inquiries on Tuesday morning.
It's unclear what in the way of endorsement deals or sponsorships she has received from Chinese businesses.
In China, she is referred to as 'the snow princess'.
She guest-edited this month's issue of Vogue plus, an online offshoot of Vogue China, where she talked about the internal 'code switch' of balancing her American and Chinese identities.
She has also appeared recently on the cover of Elle China.
According to Red Bull, she appears in promotional videos for the Olympics, running along the Great Wall of China while carrying the Olympic torch.
Those videos do not seem to be online, which is in keeping with China's strong grip on what is published about it.
The State Department did not respond to inquiries about her citizenship on Tuesday.
Gu is 'everywhere' in China, according to international journalists who are now on the ground in Beijing
Gu is far more well known in China than she is in the US currently, despite her having partnerships with major US brands. Her Weibo account is shown
According to a recent Wall Street Journal profile, Red Bull previously published that Gu had given up her US passport in order to compete for China.
Red Bull then changed her bio to remove all mention of her citizenship.
She is not the first star to side with China rather than the US on the international stage.
Last year, Canadian-Chinese actor Nicolas Tse renounced is Canadian citizenship and pledged allegiance to China.
He claimed, like Gu, that he had a duty to inspire Chinese youths and spread the country's culture around the world.
Even American stars and Hollywood have pandered to the Chinese to save their spots in the gargantuan markets there.
John Cena last year apologized after acknowledging Taiwan as a country and not a Chinese territory, profusely begging his Chinese fans for their forgiveness on social media.
CHINA'S LAWS ON CITIZENSHIP - DUAL NATONALITIES BANNED
China, unlike the US, does not recognize dual nationality - anyone who wants to claim Chinese nationality must pledge total allegiance to the country.
It means for people like Gu, who became a naturalized citizen through her mother in 2019, they cannot also enjoy nationality in other countries.
In the past it has driven some stars to renounce their Western citizenships.
For many, the lucrative opportunities in the Chinese market are more significant than those in the West.
That is what drives some to pick China over the North America and Canada.
Gu's case is more complex because she made the switch when she was 15 and according to the State Department, a minor cannot legally renounce citizenship until they are 16.
It remains unclear if she has ever formally renounced her American citizenship, or if China is aware of her citizenship status.
Neither Gu nor the State Department will comment.