In an interview with New York Times Magazine, Li Na says she’s had a hard time dealing with the state-run Chinese media.
The People’s Daily, which the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, attacked Li over the summer. “When star athletes’ personalities have become insufferable by the standard of social customs and traditions, who is to rein in their unchecked insolence?” the paper wrote in an editorial.
Li told the Times Magazine that she plays for herself as much as for her homeland. “When people say that I represent the nation that is too big a hat for me to wear. In the past, I used to be really bothered by [bad stories]. Now I just think that perhaps [the Chinese media] think that I’m not famous enough, so they want to help me out.
“At the beginning, I would be affected by everybody’s expectations, but I came to realize that people were just projecting their own dreams onto me. I’m not a saint. I, too, am an ordinary person. I have my ups and downs. So all I can do is focus on doing my job well. I really, truly think that I am just an athlete. I can represent nothing but myself.”
Li’s husband Jiang says that when she receives bad coverage, he tries to calm her. “We Chinese have a saying: ‘For any hero, half will compliment, half will slander,’” he said. “I tell her to forget the attacks, the pressure, the expectations. But it’s hard to forget. We’re only human.”