On Saturday, China’s Li Na became the first Asian woman to win the Australian Open. The audience at Li’s acceptance speech was greatly entertained by her sense of humor and burst into laughter eight times during her less-than-3-minute talk.
She began, in fluent English, by thanking her agent for making her rich and her husband, Jiang Shan, for giving up everything to travel with her, for being her hitting partner, and for fixing her drinks and rackets. “Thanks a lot,” said Li, cheekily. “You’re a nice guy.” And then, with impeccably comic timing, she added, “And you’re so lucky to find me.”
It wasn’t just the audience on Saturday that loved her. Li Na has also become something of a celebrity among Chinese netizens, and not only because of her excellence as an athlete. Li has become a symbol, both in China and abroad, of a smart, strong, successful woman with a sense of humor.
Born and raised in Wuhan, Hubei, where local women enjoy a national reputation for being sassy, Li is no exception. In 2012, in a video that showed during a break at the Sony WTA Tour, Li was seen yelling at her husband, Jiang, in the Wuhan dialect on national television, telling him to stay away and leave her alone when he seemed only to kindly offer comments and suggestions. The video went viral. Everyone loved it.
Since winning the French Open in 2011, Li was featured by Time as one of the 100 influential people in 2012, and now juggles twelve corporate sponsorships–surpassing the number Yao Ming had in his heyday. This year’s Australian Open earned her roughly $2.31 million. She is, by any measure, an extraordinary success.
While many in the West tend to depict Chinese culture as conservative, and its women as feminine or docile, the Chinese reaction to Li stands in sharp contrast. While many conservative Americans have been attacking Wendy Davis for manipulating her husband to pay for her school and for leaving her children to pursue politics, it’s worth noting that no one in China has yet implied that Li should have sacrificed her career to support Jiang’s—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The more she yells, the more we can’t get enough.