Rio 2016: Was Chinese proposal romantic or just a form of male control?

By Tom Spender
BBC News

image copyrightAFP/Getty
image caption"How romantic!" or perhaps "How could you do this to me?"

The crowd loved it - but did He Zi?

The Chinese diver had tears in her eyes when fellow athlete Qin Kai proposed during her silver medal ceremony.

A smile, however, took a lot longer to appear.

She eventually said yes to her boyfriend of six years, but his very public stunt has since divided opinion around the world.

In China, where unusual marriage proposals are widely shared and commented on, some gushed over the "romantic gesture of a lifetime" but others were sceptical.

"What a way to add pressure to her, having the entire world watch her as she makes such a private and life-changing decision," wrote Gu Jueyang on microblogging site Weibo.

"If she rejects his offer of marriage, she will be labelled a cruel person by billions around the world, watching. It may be masked as romantic but I feel otherwise."

image copyrightAFP/Getty
image captionQin Kai (L) did the full bended knee routine

One Weibo user even accused the couple of a cynical grab for celebrity status: "Publicity and timing - all essential to becoming China's new golden couple," he wrote.

Meanwhile on the BBC Facebook page, some users criticised "sexist" media coverage that they said focused more on the proposal than on Ms He's sporting achievement.

"People get married all the time, only a few have the chance to achieve Olympic glory. Or should the little lady be relieved a man will have her?" asked Zoe MacGechan.

'Control mechanism'

London-based author Sunny Singh tweeted that the proposal revealed a sense of male entitlement.

She described it to the BBC as "a dick move, and definitely not romantic".

"It's a control mechanism, a way of saying 'You may just have won an Olympic medal, or be a CEO or have designed a spacecraft, but really the most important thing is you're my wife'," she said.

"Imagine if it was someone like Michael Phelps receiving a medal and a woman came up and proposed - people would laugh at her. When men experience success, women are expected to stand aside and cheer from the background."

image copyrightAP
image captionVictory for Mr Qin at Ms He's medal ceremony

Mr Qin had also taken advantage of what must already have been an emotional moment, Ms Singh said.

"You would also have to be extremely brave to say no at that point. You've won a medal, you're in public, you've worked your whole life for this. Even the best human being is likely to be emotionally shaky and vulnerable at such a moment. And women are taught from an early age to be nice and not to say no," she added.

Mr Qin's proposal was not the first to take place at the Rio Games - earlier Marjorie Enya entered the pitch after the first Women's Rugby Sevens Final between Australia and New Zealand and asked Brazilian player Isadora Cerullo to marry her.

But that was different, Ms Singh said, because it did not involve hijacking a medal ceremony.

'All about the Olympics'

However, others said Mr Qin had simply been "shouting his love from the rooftops" and there was nothing wrong with that.

Daisy Amodio, founder of proposal consultants The Proposers, said the move made sense because they were both athletes.

"For this couple it was all about the Olympics. They have been through four years of training, dedication and hard work so why not do it there? The reward for them afterwards is we've done this really amazing thing, let's get married. It's very special," she said.

image copyrightAFP/Getty
image captionGold and Bronze medallists Shi Tingmao (R) and Tania Cagnotto enjoyed the spectacle

Ms Amodio said proposing in public could be risky - and some do go spectacularly wrong - but not as risky as many might think.

"You need to be 100% sure that person is going to accept. However some girls are literally begging their boyfriends to propose. I was begging my boyfriend to propose for five years," she said.

About half the proposals arranged by Ms Amodio's company take place in public, she said, but demand has flattened off after growing for several years and many of those now planning to pop the question opt for a location with an amazing view rather than a big audience.

However Ms Amodio was unsurprised by delight shown by the crowd - if not by Ms He herself - when Mr Qin got down on bended knee.

"People like to see a happy story, particularly when there's so much doom and gloom in the news," she said.

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