Li Na and the Politics of Saying Thank You

On his New Yorker blog, Evan Osnos writes about tennis star Li Na, who just became the first Asian to win a singles grand slam at the French Open, and her unconventional relationship with the official Chinese sports industry:

Li rejoined the national tennis team after her wedding, but then left again in December of 2008, along with three other Chinese players, under a novel deal called a “fly alone” agreement. The deal, signed with the Tennis Management Center of the General Administration of Sport of China, allowed Li and the others to choose their own coaches and set their own competition schedules. It also reportedly slashed the share of her winnings that she gave the state from sixty-give per cent to twelve per cent.

Since Li’s win at the French Open, the state-backed media has showered her with praise. Even the People’s Daily, which maintains a heroic imperviousness to current events—reserving the front page for photos of Party leaders—gave big play to a photo of Li smooching her trophy (see above image), beneath the cover line that her triumph shall be “Recorded as a Legend of Asia.”

State television plastered images of her win with the phrase “Li Na’s success was a result of the continuous reform of the Chinese sports system.” But Chinese fans were not quick to agree. “When she was fighting against the system, no one spoke for her; when she was training hard, no one paid attention. Now that she has succeeded by herself, she makes you proud all of a sudden?” the actress Ke Lan wrote.

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