Margaret MacNeil shot to international fame Monday after winning the women's 100-meter butterfly
at the Tokyo Olympics, setting an Americas continental record at her very first Games.
In China, however, the 21-year-old was drawing wide attention for another reason, as news spread that the Canadian girl who beat China's top woman swimmer, Zhang Yufei, by 0.05 seconds was actually born in China and adopted as a baby by a Canadian couple.
The subject of MacNeil soon lit up Chinese social media. A hashtag
about her victory became the top trending topic on Chinese microblogging site Weibo on Monday morning, and has since drawn nearly 400 million views.
Much of the attention has focused on her Chinese heritage -- and reflections over the wider social and political circumstances that led to her adoption by a foreign family.
MacNeil was born in 2000 in Jiujiang, a city on the southern shores of the Yangtze River in China's Jiangxi province, according to her profile
on Team Canada's official website.
On Chinese social media, many suspected she had been abandoned by her biological parents, a once-common practice under China's now-scrapped one-child policy.
The stringent policy, in place until 2016, led to female infants being aborted, abandoned and even killed due to a traditional preference for sons among many Chinese families. That has left the country with a deeply skewed sex ratio at birth, and a surplus of more than 30 million men.
Concerned about plunging birth rates, the Chinese government allowed all couples to have two children in 2016. This year, it further relaxed the policy to allow three children.
But for many Chinese internet users, especially women, MacNeil's victory has served as a vivid reminder of the pernicious legacy of the decades-long policy, and still widespread gender inequality.
According to the US government, more than 84%
of the over 82,000 children Americans adopted from China between 1999 and 2019 are girls.
While some online articles
have portrayed MacNeil's Chinese lineage as a case of national pride for China, many were quick to point out that the country should instead draw reflections.
"We lost such a talent owing to the preference of boys to girls, how do you still have the nerve to mention (her Chinese origins)," a comment
Others lamented the discrimination against girls in their upbringing, especially in rural China.
"She might not be a talent had she been raised in China. Instead, she might have dropped out of school early to work in the factories," said another comment
One viral Weibo post, which said
, "Canada has stumbled upon a precious gem" and called for people to help MacNeil search for her birth parents, was met with strong criticism.
"It's the Canadians who have nurtured her into a precious gem," said the top comment underneath the post.
After the race on Monday, Zhang, the Chinese swimmer who took silver, said she felt quite close to MacNeil. "I feel that she is a family member," Zhang was quoted as saying by Reuters
MacNeil, meanwhile, has stressed that she's Canadian and has "always grown up Canadian."
"I was born in China and I was adopted when I was really young, so that's just as far as my Chinese heritage goes," MacNeil said at a