Our Stories: The Fight for Individuality

Shelly Liu ‘20, Staff Writer

Li Na: the Fight for Individuality

By Shelly Liu ‘20


     ‘I just keep fighting and try to be the last one standing.’ —Li Na

     “Come! Come watch! She’s scoring again!” Dad clutched the pillow in excitement. Our whole family crowded close to the television, unable to peel our eyes away from the single moving figure on screen. There she was again, Li Na. She stared her opponent down with ferocious intent, sweat streaming down her face as she gripped the tennis racket with both hands. The ball bounced back and forth so quickly and with so much power that I could almost see the trailing wisps of smoke.

      Born on the 26th of February in 1986, Li Na started as one of many trainee tennis players brought up in a government-run facility from the age of five. During her career, Li achieved 9 WTA singles titles, which included two Grand Slam titles(2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open). She was also the first Asian tennis player to ever achieve a Grand Slam title. Now, at 32, she is a retired tennis player who gained recognition by not only achieving Grand Slam titles, but by standing up to the government when no one else would.

     Using methods common in government-ran programs, her instructors taught her using negative reinforcement, which impacted her confidence in later life. Li Na found the system she was taught in lacking. For example, they made athletes live in sports camps, sometimes forced them to take hormones, and forbade relationships with other athletes. In addition, athletes had to give the majority of their earnings back to the government. Unlike most government-supported Chinese athletes, Li Na was unafraid to comment on and criticize the techniques used to train young athletes and their living conditions which were dictated by the government.

     Not only is she an advocate for better treatment of state-backed athletes, Li’s need for independence is a direct protest against the government officials who decided that her victories be accredited to the state. Many times, Li has made public statements that she plays only for herself, and not her country or the government that oppressed her. In response to her individuality and her protesting, the state-run newspapers condemned her as “insufferable”, and advised that she “rein in [her] unchecked insolence.” For the country leaders, she is a symbol of the new generation’s protests against the government, provoking conversations about freedom and patriotism.

     Li Na fought for fairer conditions for fellow sportsmen and sportswomen by appearing publicly to condemn the government. She refused to take hormone therapy, she developed a relationship with a co-athlete whom she later married, and she lobbied to give only 10 percent of her wages back to the government. Of her many achievements, one of her greatest was that she was the only Chinese athlete to ever dare take a stand against the government publicly.