© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Sport has been of great importance to the construction of Chinese national consciousness during the past century. This article examines how China’s sport celebrities have played their part in nation building and identity construction. It points out that Chinese athletes’ participation in international sporting events in the first half of the twentieth century demonstrated China’s motivation to stay engaged with the world, and therefore led to their being regarded as national heroes. From the 1950s, China’s status and relative strength among nations became measured by the country’s success at international sporting events. The nation’s appetite for gold medals resulted in the rapid development of elite sport, but has placed a heavy burden on star athletes.