Li Na Dreams the Dream of a Nation

Jun 08, 2011

A Chinese blogger ponders the Grand Slam win of compatriot Li Na and wonders how much the tennis champion owes to China's national sporting policy.

[Ed's note: The term “national sporting policy”, or 举国体制 in Mandarin, denotes the Chinese system of centralising the mobilisation and allocation of resources for the attainment of a particular sporting goal, usually in the case of China, an Olympic gold. This Soviet-derived system aims to devote limited resources through centralised planning by the state.

In 2008, Li Na was one of four top athletes allowed to quit the system by the Chinese government. ]

It is impossible to discuss Li Na and avoid talking about the individual versus the country. An American news agency calculated immediately that out of Li Na's 11.38 million yuan (US$ 1.77 million) prize money, 12%, or 1.32 million yuan will go to the state. And this is after Li Na left the State's sporting system, and chose to select her own trainers. Otherwise she would have to turn in 65% of her winnings.

956 Li Na's fans at Roland Garros, Paris, where she won the French Open tennis championship. (Photo: Passion Leica @ Flickr)

1.32 million yuan. Li Na said she was still grateful to the country, because if she had problems with her visa, she could still approach the China Tennis Association for assistance.  But after deducting assistance fees, I don't know how much of the 1.32 million yuan will be left to improve and rebuild basic facilities, so that children from ordinary families – like Li Na was – can have the opportunity to experience tennis, and pursue a Grand Slam dream. But in my many years as a Chinese taxpayer, no matter how much you give, it will not even get you a few metres of free roads or a smiling face from the bureaucrats you meet, while applying various useful and useless documentation.

... turning to the domestic Chinese media, she vehemently denied that her win was China's victory.

Regardless, to the foreign media, Li Na gave enough “face” or respect to the country, wrapping herself in the national flag, talking about how Chinese tennis will go from strength to strength. But turning to the domestic Chinese media, she vehemently denied that her win was China's victory.

“China! Isn't it a little big? Today is the day I fulfilled my dream, but to say that the victory is China's is a bit much. It is too big. It is too much for me to bear.”

To say that a national victory is too much for her to bear, she might as well have said that she did not want those who had nothing to do with it share in her dream. “Country” was not part of the fans she wanted to thank. Today's mainstream media brought out an argument, that it was the national sporting policy and its market-driven concept of allowing sportsmen to autonomously take charge of their own training that created Li Na's success.

This is because without the sporting regulators, Li Na might not even have had the chance to play tennis, and she would not have established a strong foundation to build on.

Yet one could also argue from this reasoning: What China has is not an additional national sporting policy, but a deficiency in facilities and investment in a pervasive sporting curriculum, to allow a large number of sports to be more accessible to ordinary people, apart from simply being something they watch on television.

This national sporting policy has nothing to do with Li Na's dream. When the objective of nurturing her is an Olympic medal from which 65% of her winnings can be taken by the state, Li Na is merely a tool of the national sporting policy, and who is a tool to have its own dream?

It doesn't matter how much its GDP is, or how alarmingly many Olympic gold medals it can garner. What matters is that it can give wings to the dreams of young people.

There is a saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” That is the biggest piece of inverse reasoning I have heard: The raison d'être of a state is to serve the people. At least this is the case for modern states. It doesn't matter how much its GDP is, or how alarmingly many Olympic gold medals it can garner. What matters is that it can give wings to the dreams of young people. Otherwise it is a hopeless country, leaving only generations of people robbed of hope by property prices.

Li Na's story is so wonderful, precisely because of her daring to dream, and having her dream come true. In a country where there does not exist a national sporting policy, it is even more common that a poor child can become fulfil his or her dream and become a sporting superstar.

The poor children of Africa can become the next [Didier] Drogba, because they do not have to spend money. They simply have to have the ability to perform in a professional league and be discovered by a talent scout from Europe.

In the inner slums of the United States, black children who want to escape from drugs can dream of winning sports scholarships, make a name for themselves in the school teams, and then move on to various professional leagues.

It doesn't matter if you are tall or short, you would not have to meet the rigid requirements set by the talent discovery programmes. When you stretch out your hand, you can touch a dream.

But this, it may be a dream that is harder to attain than that of winning a Grand Slam.


This post was translated from 雷彻的博客.