News From China, Period

Fu Yuanhui

CBS News reported a few days ago that Chinese athletes don’t, these days, necessarily stick to the old formulaic language thanking the Communist Party, thanking the people, and thanking the country, then bowing out after winning an ‘honorable’ place in an Olympic event:

When Fu Yuanhui, a 20-year-old Chinese swimmer competing in Rio de Janeiro, who has more than six million followers on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, gave a post-game interview to state television last week, her pronounced facial expressions and giddy response to unexpectedly winning a bronze medal were quickly turned into GIF animations and went viral on the Chinese internet.

Then, when her team came in only in fourth place in the 4x100m event, she made news again by breaking the Chinese taboo of publicly discussing menstruation.

While her teammates talked to a reporter from China’s CCTV, vying to accept blame for the loss, she crouched behind a board but eventually stood up to say on-camera: “I didn’t swim well today, I’m sorry.”

When asked about “stomach pain,” she bluntly admitted, “yes, I’m having my period.”

Her dad Fu Chunsheng was quick to offer a comforting message on Weibo: “Baby, you’re always the best in dad’s heart, don’t let this ruin your mood, we should still respect nature.”

In 2010, 18-year-old speed skater Zhou Yang was criticized by a senior sports official when she thanked her parents, teammates and coaches for helping her achieve the gold medal, but forgot to mention the country and government.

But no one is criticizing Fu, who’s instead enjoying the love of millions of social media followers, many more fans all around China – and big advertisers.

And she seems to be taking it all in stride, even if the limelight has come as something as a surprise.

“I never thought so many people could like me. It puts me under a lot of pressure,” she admitted in a recent interview.