The Story of Li Na and the Chinese Patriots

Jan 31, 2011

Li Na made history by becoming the first Chinese to reach a Grand Slam final, but the victory is hers, not China’s.

Li Na had shown her extraordinary talents since youth, but her career was bottled up by the state system. In 2002, she decided that she had reached an end to her career. So she retired from the tennis to study in university. The State Tennis Administration lobbied her to come back for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In return, she obtained a certain degree of freedom, including her right to choose her own coach, training plan and competition schedule. Thus, she was able to go solo de facto within the state system. In this sense, she is more fortunate than the talented 1980's tennis player Hu Na who had to seek asylum to play tennis her own way.

The State Tennis Administration Center director Sun Jinfang said sourly after the Australian Open final: "History will remember Li Na, but going solo is not a panacea." At the same time, Sun praised Li Na for continuing to hand over a portion of her winnings to the State Tennis Administration Centre.

Li Na plays for herself, not for the motherland. She faces her challenges on her own, not under the guidance of coaches and leaders who would want her to forget the spirit of the sport and her own individual worth. Li Na does not thank the motherland. She has frequently shown her contempt for the immature patriotism expressed by Chinese sports fans. Her success tells us that enjoying the competition is far more important than patriotism. Also, success and self-actualisation in an individual sport ultimately depend on individual effort and won't be conferred by the state.

We congratulate Li Na. Her success is not just about her results. She and her companions have shown us the direction of Chinese sports. As for those patriots who have repeatedly frustrated Li Na from courtside, we hope that they can "shut up" soon enough.


This post was originally published at ESWN in January 2011.