China's dazzling tennis star Li Na arrived at her home province of Hubei three days after winning the Australian Open final, only to find the vice governor waiting to meet her with extended hands at the airport. Plus the governor and secretary of the provincial committee of CPC handed her a cash award of 800,000 yuan ($132,240). These officials met with pungent criticism from the public. "Why did they complacently meet Li Na at the airport?" "How could they give taxpayers' money to her?" Many similar questions went viral online.
Such questioning is justified, but someone also has to raise the query whether there would be opposing voices if Hubei officials did not receive her at her arrival and offer a generous cash award.
Li has achieved great things in a unique way, making her carry certain political implications in present-day China. Although she is just enjoying the competition and persists in her own choice, the public pay extraordinary heed to her words and deeds with unusual interpretations. Therefore officials indeed face special risks from public opinion when dealing with her.
Li has been hailed as a hero for denying the State-run sports system by some and her success repeatedly used as proof that the current sports mechanism needs thorough reform. Some comments even emphasize that she triumphed through seeking freedom.
It is easy to spot that China's sports circle has long been inundated with such remarks. Objectively speaking, Li's championship has demonstrated that there are royal roads to success besides the State-run system. She has inspired more athletes to take up commercial sports. Nevertheless her triumph couldn't serve as a reason to call for China to abandon the State mechanism immediately.
When Li is deified, dealing with her by any means might seem secular. Her special identity poses a conundrum for officials, leaving the public airing various views.
Chinese public opinion is now highly sensitive, with some people prioritizing politics everywhere. Li's successful tennis career has quickly evolved into a public carnival across the country.
The first Chinese as well as Asian champion in the 109-year history of the Australian Open may possess incredible psychological power so as to be touted as an idol of Chinese public opinion today.
Frequently surrounded by different sensations, she has been suffering from a wide range of interpretations and misunderstandings. We are convinced that the Li Na subjected to sundry public opinions is nowhere near the real person and that the world around her is being distorted.
We still lack knowledge and insight. Li Na has left prominent footprints on the path of commercial sports and can be compared to Rong Guotuan who won China's first world table tennis championship. Public opinion is wantonly consuming Li Na's inspiring story. However, what influence will such consumption yield? Only time will tell.