You might not guess it by looking at her rather glum expression, but in the picture above, Chinese tennis star Li Na is receiving a check for 800,000 yuan — roughly $US132,000.
Na’s long face is probably why this picture has now gone viral on Weibo, Josh Chin and Fanfan Wang of The Wall Street Journal note.
Netizens just can’t seem to work out why Na, who had returned Tuesday to her hometown of Hubei following her second Grand Slam win, wouldn’t at least feign some type of excitement when being given a check for such a huge amount by Hubei Communist Party chief Li Hongzhong.
Well for one thing, the 31-year-old is stupidly rich anyway — she’s estimated to be worth $US40 million after winning the Australian Open recently — so $US132,000 is barely worth Na getting out of bed.
But there may be another factor — that’s government money, and Na is not a government athlete. She famously split from the Chinese state’s tennis system in 2008, preferring to choose her own coaches (and keep her own earnings, rather than hand them over to the China Tennis Association).
After her recent Australian Open win, this split became clear. While Na’s speech was lauded around the world as one of the most hilariously blunt (“I’d like to thank Max, my agent, for making me rich. Thanks a lot!”) ever seen at a Grand Slam, there was also something conspicuously absent — any thanks for China. Watch for yourself:
This isn’t the first time that Na hasn’t thanked her homeland; she also failed to do it after winning the French Open in 2011.
As Liz Carter of Foreign Policy notes, this is extremely unusual in China, where generally the Chinese government is the first thing athletes — almost always state-trained — thank.
The immense pressure put on Chinese state athletes is often seen as being the driving force behind the country’s remarkable Olympic successes. Na’s success — not to mention her “I-don’t-give-a-damn” attitude — are an interesting reminder that there is another way.
It seems even state newspapers might agree. “Whether or not Li Na said that she ‘thanks the motherland,’ she’s still Chinese,” The Global Times wrote on Sunday.
“Her success itself is the best thanks, the best way to give back to the motherland.”
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