2017-10-13 12:52:44

The achievements of a teenage American gymnast at the recently concluded world championships in Montreal have many in China pondering that time-worn topic: nature or nurture?

Petite in thick-rimmed glasses and flashing a wide smile, 16-year-old Morgan Hurd is attracting considerable attention from people in China, where she was born.

When she was 2, Morgan was adopted by an American woman, Sherri Hurd. Born in Wuzhou, a city in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Morgan today lives with her adoptive mother in Middletown, Delaware, in the United States.

Morgan took her first steps into the world of gymnastics when she was just 3. “I was just trying to get her involved in things to see what she liked,” said her mom in an interview. “We tried ice skating, T-ball, soccer — but she kept coming back to gymnastics.”

On Chinese microblog platform Weibo, many net users congratulated Morgan for her gymnastic prowess and show-stopping performance earlier this month, when she clenched the all-around title at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Montreal, edging out silver medalist Ellie Black of Canada and bronze medalist Elena Eremina of Russia.

Commentators said they considered Morgan’s achievements as bringing honor to the people of Guangxi, and to Chinese people in general. Still others said kudos for the victory should go to Morgan herself, to her family, or to the United States.

Guangxi is widely perceived as a highly traditional, poverty-stricken province — characterizations that were reflected in the sentiments expressed online. One Weibo user speculated that Morgan’s biological parents had abandoned her because she was a girl. “Thanks to the kind family who nurtured this girl for being so outstanding,” the same commentator said, referring to Morgan’s adoptive American family.

Since the beginning of this year, Morgan has attracted fans from all over China, giving rise to her Chinese nickname, “Xia Song,” or “summer pine tree.” The moniker is a nod to Morgan’s resemblance to Chinese gymnast Shang Chunsong, whose given name means “spring pine tree” in English. In an interview with state broadcaster CCTV, Morgan said Shang was her favorite Chinese gymnast.

Morgan’s success in Montreal has also prompted discussion among Chinese netizens about the practice of foreigners adopting Chinese children. According to the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Civil Affairs tasked with supervising such adoptions, 17 countries in the world partner with China in international adoptions, including the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia.

As of the end of 2016, there were 460,000 orphans in China, according to a government report. The same year, the country saw some 19,000 adoption cases, 2,771 of which involved foreigners. By contrast, that number a decade ago, according to a second official report, was more than 6,000, suggesting a decline in foreign adoptions.

With her small frame and outstanding flexibility, Morgan is the first Asia-born female to win the all-around title at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships. Both her mom and her coach attribute Morgan’s success to her determination and strong work ethic.

“Compared to athletes from the Chinese team, Xia Song has shown a much greater tumbling ability,” wrote one sports enthusiast on Zhihu, China’s question-and-answer website.

Along with a photo on Instagram in which she appears with competitors from other countries following her victory, Morgan wrote: “Although we all may not speak the same tongue, we have the same passion and that is what brings us together.”

Editor: Colum Murphy.

(Header image: Morgan Hurd competes in the floor exercise event of the women’s individual all-around final at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Montreal, Oct. 6, 2017. PA Images/VCG)