Tennis star Li Na has returned to mainland China after winning the Australian Open on Saturday, pocketing over $2.3 million in prize money.
Yet she looked underwhelmed Monday as she was awarded a giant red check for 800,000 yuan ($132,214) by Communist Party chief Li Hongzhong in Wuhan City, the capital of her home province of Hubei.
This is the second Grand Slam title Li has earned since splitting from the state-run sports system in 2008. The 31-year-old has since chosen her own coaches and kept all her earnings. In her victory speech, Li thanked her coach and her husband, but failed to mention China, just as she did after she won the French Open in 2011.
While Party chief Li praised the athlete for showing the world the tenacious spirit of Hubei people striving for success, netizens commented on her lack of enthusiasm.
“You should smile Li Na!” Soho president Pan Shiyi blogged on his Weibo, making fun of her reluctant expression.
“Li Na’s expression says it all,” said another Weibo user, according to the Wall Street Journal. “This is the people’s money. Li Na plays tennis well. She’s a professional athlete who doesn’t need the public to give her anything.”
Ye Mogong, president of a Guangdong culture company, wrote, “Hubei Party Secretary Li Hongzhong met Li Na and gave her an 800,000-yuan award. First, he’s using taxpayers’ money to please people in the Party, which is theft. Second, Li Na doesn’t need the money and has a brilliant reputation globally, which is far greater than the Party secretary’s. Li Hongzhong used the pretense of caring for the Party and fellow Chinese to force Li Na to meet with him; this is using the Party’s power for harassment.”
The post was forwarded multiple times, but later censored.
Research by Ariel Tian.