Video of Chinese tennis star Li Na, fresh off her Australian Open win, being slapped in the face by an official during an award ceremony of the China's 2001 National Games has gone viral on the Chinese web, sparking public anger about officials’ abuse of athletes.
In the video, Li is awarded a bronze medal from Jiang Xiuyun, the head of the national tennis team, who places the medal around Li's neck, then slaps her.
Though local media outlets quickly followed up on the story with an explanation that the “slap” was actually an intimate gesture to cheer Li up, many did not buy the story. Li does disappointed when she receives bronze on stage, but appears taken aback by the “intimate gesture”, quickly bringing her hand up to touch her slapped cheek.
According the Jiang, she split Li and her teammate up during the match, which made Li unhappy. The gesture was an attempt to rid Li of her emotion.
The sport system, managed by the Culture, Education, Health and Sports Committee on both national and provincial levels, is notorious for their attitude towards athletes. Citing the video, a non-profit organization worker, “Cai rang duo ji”, expressed irritation on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo for the humiliating action against Li:
Why didn’t Li Na express gratitude to the motherland? The common fate of Chinese is growing up in servitude and with insults. Nobody will love the motherland enslaving and insulting him or her whether successful or not.
His tweet won many echoes in the comment section. “Longxi Yize” wrote:
This is a society which calls rape love.
Another Weibo user, Jingya, watched the video and could not believe that it was an intimate gesture:
I just watched the video. I would never believe that it was friendly encouragement. If it was an intimate gesture, you would caress the face, how could you raise your hand up high and slap it instead? The facial gestures from people next to Li Na also tell what had happened.
Netizens also took the video as an explanation of her poker face during her homecoming ceremony when she received a six-figure cash award from local officials. Li remained stone-faced throughout the event.
Li Na left the national team in 2002 and began to play on an international level. Her triumph at the Australian Open provided Chinese authorities with a chance to show off the country's soft power. The welcoming ceremony was staged in her hometown with the presentation of 800,000 yuan (130,000 US dollars) to her as a gift from Hubei authorities.
Local news reports revealed that she had refused to attend any public function at first, but the authorities sent staff to Guangzhou airport and escorted her to Wuhan airport, where the ceremony took place. But when she met with her former tennis trainer from Hubei and received the prize from the provincial leader, she did not show any gratitude in front of the cameras.
The Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces are not happy about her performance. A Global Times’ January 29 editorial criticized Li has been mystified by some as an icon of “individual success” in order to undermine the authority of the national sport system. The Xinhua news agency also stressed that Li's success has been sponsored by the state.
Lawyer Yuan Yulai posted a photo of her straight-faced response to the ceremony and pointed out that her refusal to act is more important than the Australian Open championship:
I personally think that Li Na's refusal to perform has greater meaning than winning the Australia Open.
Many joined the discussion and interpreted her cool performance:
“Attending Happiness”: Thank you Li Na. Let the shameless government officials confront the real people. Let the ass-kissers have a good look at their stinky faces.
“Expert in curing cancer”: the 800,000 yuan [award] is dog food with an attempt to turn Li Na into political tool. The performance costume is suffocating. Anyone with a free heart will not be happy about it.
“The red and green brick time”: I wasn't paying attention to her in the past. Now I feel that she should be written into the Chinese sport history books.
saitpluto87: Some said Li Na is an ill-mannered person. But our society needs this kind of person to do away with the culture of the government and promote social progress.
“Writer-Tianyuo”: Every citizen has the right to refuse to perform for the entertainment of the leader.