News / Asia

Tennis Star's 'Bonus' Sparks Chinese Public Outrage

Chinese tennis star Li Na accepts a check from Hubei Communist Party chief Li Hongzhong Tuesday, January 28, 2014 following her weekend championship win at the 2014 Australian Open.
Chinese tennis star Li Na accepts a check from Hubei Communist Party chief Li Hongzhong Tuesday, January 28, 2014 following her weekend championship win at the 2014 Australian Open.
Sarah Williams
Chinese tennis star Li Na fulfilled a long-cherished dream in January by winning the 2014 Australian Open Women’s Championship. But she is apparently not happy with the official recognition she received upon returning home this week.

Li Na became the first Chinese and first Asian to win the tournament in Melbourne, which is the only tennis Grand Slam held in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Li Na is possibly one of the most popular athletes in China at the moment, if not the most popular, probably surpassing Yao Ming, the basketball player,” said Josh Chin, editor of The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report.

Li Na of China holds the championship trophy at the Australian Open tennis championship.(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)Li Na of China holds the championship trophy at the Australian Open tennis championship.(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
x
Li Na of China holds the championship trophy at the Australian Open tennis championship.(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
Li Na of China holds the championship trophy at the Australian Open tennis championship.(AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)
In a witty victory speech, Li thanked her husband, her coach and her agent, but not her country. The omission was noticed in China.

“I would say most people [in China] were just happy to see her win, although state media probably was a little disappointed that she didn’t mention her country,” said Liz Carter, assistant editor of Foreign Policy/Tea Leaf Nation, who monitors Chinese media.  “I didn’t see any reaction among regular people of displeasure or criticism.”

What did upset many in China was a cash bonus she received upon her return home.

Returning to her home province of Hubei this week, Li was greeted by a government official who presented her with a check for 800,000 yuan - the equivalent of $132,000. Chinese social media was quick to notice that Li was photographed with a notably grim expression on her face.

The official Xinhua news agency also weighed in, carrying a commentary on Wednesday that called the event "embarrassing" and "money-worshipping". It cited Xiao Huanyu, a sports professor in Shanghai, as saying: "The government deems sports achievement a kind of political achievement. Therefore it needed to hand out the bonus to 'show its face' even though Li Na's triumph had little to do with the government."


The public reaction was largely supportive of Li's apparent disgust.  “A lot of people seemed to agree with her expression,” said Chin. "[They] essentially wondered why the government was giving her this money.”

Li’s agent negotiated at least $40 million in endorsements after she won the French Open in 2011.  At that time, Hubei officials gave her the equivalent of $99,000, which Li donated to charity.  She has not yet indicated what she will do with the latest government gift, but a lawyer is looking into the situation.

“A lawyer in Guangzho, I believe, has filed an open information, public records request with the Hubei government to ask them to explain where the money came from, and how the decision was made to give her the money,” said Chin.

The tennis champion has had a mixed relationship with the state athletic system that she left in 2008, to pursue an independent and ultimately lucrative career.  She has chosen her coaches, tournaments, and an agent who, as she said in her Australian Open victory speech, “makes me rich.”

Before opting out of the Chinese Tennis Association, Li was required to surrender 65 percent of her earnings to the government system, which trained her since her youth.  Today, Li pays the association between eight and 12 percent of her income. 

Li Na’s charisma has won her many fans. “Part of it is that she doesn’t go out seeking that attention,” Carter said. “Part of her charisma I think is that it’s pretty obvious she really cares about the game, and it seems like everything else, her endorsements, how she fits in as a symbol of China, that’s all secondary to her.”

But Li can be tough as well. “She has been known to kind of bite the nose off [sharply criticize] reporters who ask her questions she doesn’t want to answer,” said Carter.  Li also reprimanded a crowd at a match who were making too much noise cheering her. 

An early defeat at the French Open last year caused Li to consider retirement.  But after talking with her coach Carlos Rodriguez, she decided to stay the course, which led to her  Australian Open championship.

The tennis star is currently taking a break from the tour, celebrating Lunar New Year in China with her family.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs