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Li Na’s Complicated Relationship with the Media

By Zhu Chong(
July 5, 2013
Translated by Siutan Wong
Original article:

Li Na, who many Chinese refer to as “Big Sister” (一姐), is arguably the most famous tennis player to ever come out of China. But off the court, she’s famous for her impatience with the media.

After losing in the French Open this year, a reporter asked if she’d been injured during the match. “Why do you ask me that? Because I lose the match?” she replied harshly.

Then another reporter asked if she had an explanation for her fans as to why she’d lost. “Do I need to explain?” she asked. “It’s strange. I lost a game and that’s it. Do I need to get on my knees and kowtow to them? Apologize to them?” 

It was hardly the first time Li had confronted the media. Even back in 2006, before Li had become especially famous, a reporter asked how she’d improved her physical strength. “Why don’t you just say that my legs are thick?” Li briskly replied. 

Sometimes, Li doesn’t even need a question to set her off. Once when she saw a reporter who’d criticized her rude remarks at the French Open, she got angry. “I just don’t know how he could have the nerve to sit there, like nothing happened,” she said.

Most seasoned reporters have gotten used to Li’s behavior and don’t make a fuss about it. It’s usually only the young reporters that challenge her with aggressive questions that feel her wrath.

However, when facing foreign media or participating in commercial events, Li tends to be a bit more friendly and talkative. During the French Open when a Chinese reporter asked her “whether the rainy weather affected your performance?” She simply replied “no.” But when a foreign reporter asked the same question, she said, “The fact is that I lost the game. I should not find any excuse for myself.”

One reason might be that Li is in less demand from foreign reporters, so she must answer them directly or risk being passed over for other players. But since she’s such a special celebrity in China, most reporters won’t risk challenging her, lest they lose the chance to interview her in the future.

Chen Qi (陈琪), the head of an international tennis school in Guangzhou, has known Li for almost 20 years. He said she has some extremes in her personality, which has helped her to win some major events. But at the same time, it’s made her impatient and sometimes harsh with the media.

Li’s supporters say that fault lies with those reporters who’ve tarnished her image and antagonized her. According to Chen, there are a few factors that have influenced her personality, and media is one of them.

“It’s common sense that one who doesn’t respect others will never receive respect from others,” Chen said. “But we need to think about whether we’ve demanded too much from Li. Sometimes we might unconsciously treat her in a way that reflects the qualities we wish she had, but she obviously doesn’t have those qualities. That’s why there are always misunderstandings between her and the press.”

Media commentator Lin Honggen (林红根) agrees. “Some reporters only like to ask provocative questions that leave athletes speechless,” he said.

After Li’s controversial remarks about her fans at the French Open, a Chinese reporter at Wimbledon a month later tried to provoke a similar response. After Li lost, the reporter said, “It’s midnight in China now, what do you want to say to those who stayed in front of the TV until you finished the match?”

Li was silent and stared at the reporter for a few seconds before answering, “Thank you to my fans.”

According to Chen, Li’s reactions toward the media are normal for a person of her stature. People irrationally hold higher standards for public figures like her, making it hard to please everyone.

But Zhang Mingji (章明基), one of Yao Ming’s agents, said that public figures should control their behavior more carefully than private individuals. They need to learn how to work with the media, since their commercial value depends on it. Besides, the public needs information from the press, and public figures have the duty to answer their questions.

Links & Sources
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