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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More