China's first Olympic medalists get fame but not fortune
China's new Olympic heroes and heroines have come home to more than a week's worth of banquets, autograph sessions, and meetings with leaders of their government and the Communist Party.
But while China's first gold-medal winners - the superstars of the Olympic team - are awash in fame, they have few prospects for fortune. The material benefits they can expect to receive are modest in comparison with the career boosts and the financial windfalls some of their American counterparts have garnered in the past.
Asked if he would receive a cash bonus from the state for his three gold medals in men's gymnastics, Li Ning said, ''Of course!'' But neither he nor any of the other eight gold-medal winners interviewed at a press conference Tuesday said they knew how much their bonuses would be.
The athletes generally dismissed the prospect of material benefits for their accomplishments. They seemed to take most satisfaction from having changed China's former reputation as weak in sports to that of a formidable competitor. The Chinese Olympic team brought home 15 gold medals, eight silver, and nine bronze, giving it a fourth-place ranking in gold medals after the United States, Romania, and West Germany.
''I've won glory for the motherland,'' said Wu Shude, gold-medal winner in the 123-pound class weight-lifting competition, ''so I'm sure I'll be taken care of.''
His patriotism seemed genuine, even as he mentioned with good humor the possibility of receiving a 4,000-yuan (about $2,000) bonus, an unconfirmed figure which he had read in the Chinese press since returning from the US. He also said that since he won top honors at the games, his career would be more secure and he would probably receive better housing.
Li Ning confirmed that his family in the southern region of Guangxi had been offered a three-bedroom apartment since his return from the US.
Both Li Ning and Wu Shude said their deepest impression from Los Angeles was the friendliness of the American people. ''When you walk the streets and you meet someone, they will look up and say hello,'' Wu said.
Several of the athletes looked forward to getting back to a more normal life. Xu Hiafeng, gold-medal winner for the men's free pistol competition, said he would return to his village in Anhui Province and resume work as a shopkeeper. He said he hoped his friends would not treat him differently.
Wu Shude said he would continue weightlifting for several years and also return to his job as a school coach.
As for those who aimed at gold but fell short, world-record high jumper Zhu Jianhua confessed to feeling especially sad. He brought home only a bronze medal.
''I didn't jump well,'' Zhu told Premier Zhao Ziyang at a state banquet Monday. According to press reports, Zhao grasped his hand and said, ''No. You are the first (and only) sportsman who won a medal in track and field events at the Olympics and you are still the record holder in highjumping.''
Chinese in Hong Kong and overseas have followed China's Olympic successes closely. One Chinese living in Japan, Cai Shi Jin, has set aside more than $100, 000 to seed a fund for the further development of volleyball in China and to launch a sports university in Peking with the help of other overseas Chinese, according to the newspaper Guangming Daily.