Nomadland director Chloe Zhao feted and slammed on Chinese social media

Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for best director for Nomadland.
Chloe Zhao became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for best director for Nomadland.PHOTO: AFP

When director Chloe Zhao, 38, became the first Asian woman to win a Golden Globe for best director for Nomadland, social media in China was abuzz.

Even though not many of the Chinese netizens have had the chance to watch the film, about a woman living as a modern-day nomad in rural Nevada after the economy collapsed in 2008, they were quick to claim the Beijing-born director as one of their own.

China's state broadcaster CCTV and People's Daily newspaper celebrated Zhao as a "Chinese director", while the state-affiliated tabloid The Global Times called her "the pride of China".

On Weibo, news of her win was the top topic on March 1 and a number of Chinese celebrities congratulated her.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress Zhang Ziyi was one of the first, addressing her post to the director's Chinese name: "Congratulations, Zhao Ting! Look forward to the Oscar."

Zhao's stepmother, Song Dandan, a beloved veteran actress in China, wrote an emotional post: "She has become a legend in the family... and will inspire countless Chinese children."

"A Chinese girl who knew little English went abroad to study at age 16. You chose a path that we expected to be difficult but had to respect," she continued. "Today, you won the recognition at other people's home court, competing on things they are best at..."

However, despite Song calling her a "Chinese girl", netizens in China have started to question her nationality.

They have unearthed some comments Zhao had made in past interviews, which were deleted last month (February) ahead of the Golden Globes.

In an article in Filmmaker Magazine in 2013, a quote was deleted: "It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere."

Another quote on Australian news portal news.com.au in 2020, with her saying "The US is now my country", was also removed.

Both deleted segments, which have stirred up nationalist sentiment online, can still be found in archived versions of the stories and have been quoted by other media outlets.

Nomadland has been cleared for a theatrical release in China on April 23 and Zhao recorded a video in Chinese to promote it in the wake of her win.

"This film was made possible by the passion, hard work and even the life stories of many people," she said in the clip. "I hope that through their stories, you'll go looking for a life that is your own, and become the writer of your own life's story."