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)
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

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs