Li Na Lets Loose: China's Tennis Star Test Limits Of Speaking Her Mind

Analysis: Li Na became a national hero after she became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles final at last year's French Open. But she has enraged many after declaring that she plays tennis for herself, not her country. Patriots a

Li Na at last year's French Open (Frédéric de Villamil)
Li Na at last year's French Open (Frédéric de Villamil)
Liu Hongbo

BEIJING - Earlier this week at the Indian Wells Masters tournament in California, tennis star Li Na spoke after a victory over her fellow Chinese player Zheng Jie. Though it was the usual post-match press conference, her words have landed back in China with a thud. "I'm just a tennis player," she told reporters. "I'm not here at the tournament for my country. I just want to play my tennis. It's my job to do my very best. If in the past I've had to lie, now I want to say that actually I haven't been comfortable doing that. Because if you've lied your first lie, then you'll have to lie many more times to cover up that first lie. And I really don't want to do that anymore. I know many people are going to start hating me for speaking the truth, but does it matter anymore? I've finally found my own happiness."

This might sound normal enough to you and me, but not in China -- or at least not for some people in China. Li's words have sparked a major uproar in the Chinese media and blogosphere. With reactions both favorable and unfavorable, from praise to fanatical indignation, vivid emotions are on display.

If China's national team had summoned her to their ranks then her critics might have a point. But she was indeed playing on her own behalf in an individual professional match. So what has she said that was so wrong? Why are athletes always expected to be "ambassadors'? People do it for the money and they do it to fulfill their dreams. Being patriotic or unpatriotic is another question.

Of course, we cannot rule out that there are indeed people who think about their country all day long. They perhaps do it voluntarily. Do you know anyone like that?

However, we have to admit that the state is not always present at critical junctures in the ordinary folk's life and death, in their grace and disgrace. For most of us, just to work hard and to worry about how to lead a good life as best we can is all we can do. If that makes us unpatriotic, at least we are in good company.

I'm sure most of you will agree with me -- hey, it's common sense. But, for those of you who aren't much into common-sense, let me try again: Li Na said she plays the tennis matches for herself, not for her country... Well, so what? Will this cause harm to the state? Will it impede society or threaten anyone's interests? I believe that no matter what Li says, China will continue to "rise" and society will become ever more "harmonious."

Statues and slaps

It won't change the fact that most of us have to scramble and juggle for our living, while others lead a debauched life. Needless to say that Li Na, though playing tennis for herself, pays her taxes -- and also contributes to many charities.

One online comment went like this: "Money is your guts," implying that Li told the truth just because she is now rich and successful, so she can afford to be bold. This is indeed a very gloomy way of thinking, that one is a moral dwarf if one is neither rich nor successful.

Another comment said "We thought she was the glory of the nation and rushed to endow her with honor and to erect a statue for her. Now she's slapping us in the face…" But whether or not Li Na plays tennis for her country is her own business. If she happens to win, her country will be proud of her. Otherwise her country will largely ignore her.

It's not the first time that Li Na has provoked such a controversy. After winning last year's French Open in Paris, and receiving the championship cup, she thanked everybody from her fans, her rivals, her team, her husband and in particular her sponsor. Somehow, no doubt through an administrative oversight, she neglected to thank the Chinese Communist party. A real patriotic Chinese athlete would have done so…

Li Na is normal. What is abnormal? The norms of language in our society are abnormal. Honest words, alas, seems to be the enemy of Chinese society. And so what?

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Frédéric de Villamil

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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