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China: Li Na's Championship, National Pride?

Over the weekend, Chinese tennis player Li Na became the first Chinese national to win a tennis Grand Slam final. In most cases, championship in sport is closely connected in China with the celebration of national pride. However, Chinese netizens have taken Li Na's victory as a celebration of individualism, and are questioning the country's sports policy.

As the China Media Project noticed, The People's Daily has placed Li Na's victory in the headline of June 5, 2011, edition of the paper. In fact, even before Li Na won the Grand Slam, Sina.com‘s sport news channel [zh] tried to apply the rhetoric of national pride to frame the tennis match.

The news story was singled out, however, and has received a lot of criticism from [online forum] Sina Weibo. The June 3, 2011, story reads:

【李娜带着13亿人的冠军梦前进】2011年,@李娜 注定感动中国!从年初闯入澳网决赛,到战胜莎拉波娃闯入法网决赛的瞬间,李娜带着13亿中国人的大满贯梦想再一次站在国际舞台上!当之无愧成为中国体坛代表人物,亚洲体坛的No.1!两天之后,李娜将在法网冲击冠军,让我们为娜姐加油!http://t.cn/aoKYNQ

[Li Na steps forward to championship with the dreams of 1.3 billion people] In 2011, @Li Na inspires China! From the Australian Open Final to the French Open, Li Na has stepped on to the international stage with the dreams of 1.3 billion Chinese people. She is the representative of Chinese sport and the Number One in Asia! Two days later, she will strike for the Championship in France, let's add oil for sister Na! http://t.cn/aoKYNQ
Li Na wins the 2011 Grand Slam Final. Photo by Flickr user Lucian_ge (CC BY 2.0).

Li Na wins the 2011 Grand Slam Final. Photo by Flickr user Lucian_ge (CC BY 2.0).

In the comment section, there are more than 900 responses, the majority of which however splash cold water on the nationalistic narrative:

Zaraki_ 李娜只代表她自己,别用13亿这个数字来被代表 (6月4日 21:13)

广州滔仔 确实如此,WTA职业联赛又不是奥运会,这纯粹是个人职业赛事,跟国家屁关系没有,说什么带着13亿人的梦前进简直让人笑话,WTA的双打比赛经常是两个不同国家的运动员组合参赛的,那如果这样岂不是要带着A国家的人口+B国家的人口的梦前进了?(6月4日 17:12)

上官雪小耶 新浪煽情无处不在,你又知道13亿人的梦想是啥?至少我的梦想是能住上好房子,吃上安全吃的,看病不要钱,上学不要钱,交的税都用去照顾孤儿寡妇弱势群体,谁想去国际舞台了啊?人家娜姐的梦想大家祝福她就是了,非得搞那么大顶帽子,好像输了就要自绝与江东父老一样。(6月4日 11:37)

新疆老黄牛 也是为自己挣钱,与工人农民没有任何关系。(6月3日 12:47)

Zaraki_ Li Na only represents herself, don't use 1.3 billion to represent her. (June 4 21:13)

广州滔仔 The WTA is not the Olympics. It is just an individual professional match and has nothing to do with the country. It is a joke to say that she carries the dreams of 1.3 billion people. In the WTA, sometimes players from different countries even pair up for a match. Should we say the two players carry the dream of all people from A and B countries? (June 4 17:12)

上官雪小耶 Sina is playing with sentiment. How could you know what the dreams are of 1.3 billion people? My dream is to have a nice apartment, safe food, health care, free education. I also hope that my tax money would go to the poor. Who care about the international stage? We can bless Li Na for her dream. Why do we have to put such a big hat on her head? It's as though if she had lost, she wouldn't be able to return home to see her fellowmen anymore. (June 4 11:37)

新疆老黄牛 She is just making her living, this has nothing to do with the workers and peasants. (June 3 12:47)

The reason why netizens don't associate Li Na's championship with national pride is due to her personal history. Li Na was born in 1982, in Hubei province. Her father, Li Shengpang, was a badminton player, but was forced to end his sports career early as a result of the Cultural Revolution. He died when Li Na was 14-years-old. Li Na started playing badminton when she was six and switched to tennis when she was nine. She joined the National Tennis Team in 1997 and turned pro in 1999. She left the Tennis Team in 2002, returned in 2004, and quit the team again in 2008. Her conflict with the National Team and Chinese Sport System went public in 2005 in an open debate[zh]. A cadre from the Tennis management center criticized Li for being too self-centered and said she would not represent China in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Microblogger Anunnaki-S reminds his “followers” on Sina Weibo about Li's conflict with the state sporting system, and raised the highly-debated question: China, what have you done to claim credit in Li Na's championship? [zh]:

#李娜威武#【中国,你凭什么为李娜夺冠而骄傲?】她曾经效力国家队,对中国僵化的体制彻底失望,比赛奖金也大部分被上层拿走。08年,她脱离体制,开始参加世界大赛,所有费用自理,每年依然上缴12%的广告费和8%的奖金。成绩不好,批评非议,夺得冠军,猪狗都赶来沾光。中国,你凭什么?

#Li Na is invincible# [China, what have you done to claim credit in Li Na's championship?] She joined the National team, and tebecame totally disillusioned with the rigid system. A large portion of the cash prize she won from matches was taken away [by the system], so she left the system in 2008 and started participating in international matches by herself. Every year, she still needs to pay 12% of her advertising income and 8% of her cash prize to the system. If she loses, she faces other criticisms, yet if she wins, dogs and pigs appear to claim credit. China, what have you done to claim such credit?
  • http://www.thinkingchinese.com gao le

    Very interesting article.
    It is a bit naive to think that it is possible that Chinese and Chinese media won’t feel proud of Li Na. In most countries, a success of a local athlete is widely celebrated, it’s not a Chinese invention.

    I recommend this article for further reading on this topic –
    http://thinkingchinese.com/index.php?page_id=296

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