Li Na's win at the French Open and her "soft power"

June 16, 2011

If you've been to our Facebook page in the last week, you know that Cheng & Tsui has quite a few Li Na fans in the office and among our friends!

If you have never heard of Li Na, don't worry. Last week, she was the number 7 women's tennis player whose name only devoted tennis and Chinese sports fans knew. This week Li Na won the French Open on the red clay of Roland Garros, and became the first Chinese to win a grand slam title. She is now the number 4 ranked player whose name is not only known by all tennis fans, but a majority of China's 1.3 billion people. Her success has sparked lots of conversations in both the Western and Chinese media about what effect her win will have on tennis in China. Former player and current television commentator John McEnroe was only half-sarcastic when he said that China is "probably building clay courts as we speak." While most of the talk over the past week has been about what Li Na's victory means for China, there should also be a conversation about what Li Na's victory means for the world. More specifically, what Li Na means to the world in terms of China's "soft power."

Soft power, a term coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard, is defined by Google as "a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence." When the term was first coined, the term was often used by political scientists to describe the enormous influence of American culture and English language around the world. Many argued that America's dominance at the close of the 20th century was not due to having the highest GDP or most powerful military, but from the "soft power" of American language and culture.

While there's almost daily press about China's economic and political growth, China is also growing its soft power. This is where Li Na comes back into the picture. Through her success on the tennis court and attractive personality, Li Na made a huge push for China's soft power this past week. China watchers from around the world took a short break from focusing on China's food safety or economic policies, and took notice of the 29 year old from Wuhan.

We congratulate Li Na on her historic victory and wish her the best of luck at Wimbledon.

Jamie Fleishman is an intern at the Asian language learning publisher, Cheng & Tsui. Cheng & Tsui is the leading publisher of Chinese language textbooks, interactive material and resources. Visit for more information and to view our entire catalog.