On Friday, July 23, against all odds, the Tokyo Olympics finally began. Amidst all the cheer and excitement, the uniforms of athletes from different countries stood out. 

For many members of the Chinese audience, the Olympics means another display of “scrambled eggs with tomato” from their home team.

Weibo: “There was a video discussing the Olympic uniforms of different countries, and when it got to China, started talking about how China’s team has always been “tomato and scrambled eggs” in the past, and even provided two videos…so I went and made myself a tomato and scrambled egg…” 

Because of the colors on China’s flag, the uniforms of Chinese athletes in the Olympics opening ceremony always feature some bold combination of red and yellow. It’s always either bright red suits with bright yellow ties, or bright yellow suits with bright red ties. 

This is a formula that has long been ridiculed by the Chinese audience as “unfashionable.” 

This sentiment evolved to the point where it became a running joke for the entire nation that China’s Olympic garb is akin to a platter of “scrambled eggs with tomato,” a common  recipe in China. 

Compliation of China’s uniform for the opening ceremony in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, and 2016 Rio Olympics

Example photo of tomato and scrambled egg, one of the most commonly made home-dishes in China for how easy it is to make and how delicious it is

And although the attire for the actual Olympic awards haven’t nearly been ridiculed as much, the similar red-yellow color palette has made them a part of the “scrambled egg” joke. 

2008 Beijing Olympics attire, badminton awards. From left to right: Malaysian athlete Li Zongwei for silver, Chinese athlete Lin Dan for gold, and Chinese athlete Chen Long for bronze

2012 London Olympics attire, badminton awards. From left to right: Malaysian athlete Li Zongwei for silver, Chinese athlete Lin Dan for gold, and Chinese athlete Chen Long for bronze

2016 Rio Olympics attire, women’s Volleyball awards. China’s team for gold

This year, though, China’s uniform design for the awards ceremony has had a big overhaul. The famous Oscar-winning visual designer Timmy Yip designed the uniforms . 

Yip wanted China’s athletes to march into Tokyo not only in style, but in clothes that clearly represented China’s culture and values.

Instead of the usual red and yellow combo, Yip chose to highlight China’s signature colors with large areas of white. He further introduced elements of traditional Chinese design. 

For example, the frog buttons at the collar  create one of the most memorable Olympic uniforms for China in the last decade.

Four Years in the Making

Timmy Yip and his design for the 2020 Tokyo OlympicsFour years ago, Anta Sports, China’s previous Olympics provider, found Timmy Yip in hopes of a collaboration. After extensive research, Yip finally began the journey of creating China’s new uniform. 

As China’s attire for the global Olympics, Yip had to balance many areas of focus. For example, how can the design be fashionable yet not overly flamboyant? 

How should he merge elements of traditional Chinese culture with modern clothing? How can he ensure the design amplifies comfort and athletic performance? 

Above all else, how should he represent China? 

For many people less literate about the nation, China is represented by symbols or phrases that are disjointed from the country’s actual culture. 

Yang Qian of China celebrates after winning the first gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the women's 10-meter air rifle final in Tokyo, Japan, July 24, 2021. /CFP

When you ask someone to describe China, they usually come up with something such as chopsticks, panda express, or dumplings. And while some of these are genuine to China’s culture, lthey are far from complete. 

That is why Yip decided to represent China through conceptual depth instead of any single insignia. 

In his own words, “I don't want to frame my imagination of China with specific and symbolic elements such as the dragon, the great wall and the panda. Instead, I chose two concepts representing the east to make a deeper expression.”

Close-up on China's new Olympics uniform for awards

The first concept was depth. Using traditional frog buttons from the Tang Dynasty, the line from the collar extends all the way to the stomach, where the 丹田 or “dantian” is located in Chinese Kung Fu. 

According to Yip, this fluid red line is meant to represent the “qi” sinking to the “dantian” or ‘energy center’ in the famous idiom 气沉丹田 (qi sinking to the dantian). As a basic concept in many Chinese martial arts such as qigong or taichi, it is a metaphor for one to embrace tranquility, composure, and internal peace. 

In this way, the inherent depth and values of the Chinese culture are displayed without relying on one restricting image. 

The second concept was balance through the use of colors. 

In Yip's words, “Color itself has no emotion, but through visual communication, it produces mutual contrast. Red and white, one yang and one yin, one solid and one empty, produce a classical balance. It is precisely these two colors that establish the taste of China.”

Although some netizens have jokingly called Yip’s design as 糖拌西红柿 or “tomato slices with sugar” for its use of white and red, more people are content that this year, 

China’s Olympic athletes have finally gotten rid of the usual “scrambled egg” combo. As the week goes on, more and more Olympians will stand on the awards stage representing their country. And this time, Chinese athletes will be dressed in style. 

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Emilie Zhang

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