Home > culture, General, News > Letter to mom by then 9 years-old badminton superstar, Lin Dan (林丹)

Letter to mom by then 9 years-old badminton superstar, Lin Dan (林丹)

Gold Medalist Lin Dan at the London 2012 Games (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Today, badminton superstar Lin Dan (林丹) triumphed over Malaysian friend Lee Chong Wei (李宗伟) for gold at the London 2012 Olympics. This is one of the most highly anticipated match-ups at the London games as both athletes have faced each other at major competitions in recent years, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics finals. In both Olympics, Lee has been Malaysia’s first gold medal hopeful in the country’s history. Earlier in the year at the 2012 London Open, Lee lost again to Lin, but it was due to injury. Badminton fans around the world, especially in Asia, adore them. Knowing the weight on Lee’s shoulders and his injuries, Chinese fans had a soft spot while watching him live. It was a nail-biting show for the Malaysian fans too. Lee took the first set at 21-15. During the second set, Lin over-powered, forcing Lee to give up hustling and instead conserving his energy for a final round of show-down. And, a show-down it was; the third set was neck-in-neck until Lin triumphed at 21 over Lee’s 19. So, who exactly is this Lin Dan? His letter home when he was a little boy said a lot.

At the age of 9, Lin’s parents sent him to a badminton training school in Fuzhou, capital city of his home province, Fujian. Away from the comfort of home (Longyan (龙岩)) and the care of his parents, he would write frequently to his mother. One of those letters was revealed last year on a popular show in China, called, “A Date With Luyu” (鲁豫有约), hosted by Chen Luyu (陈鲁豫). Chen’s equivalent in the West would be someone like Oprah, though Chen likely has a bigger audience. Last year, Lin was invited to the show with his wife, Xie Xingfang (谢杏芳). Xie is an accomplished badminton athlete herself, having won the World Championships in 2005 and 2006 and other international competitions.

Lin Dan (林丹) and Xie Xingfang (谢杏芳)

I was impressed by the character exhibited in that little boy, conveyed using simple Chinese phrases.

At the 17’15 mark in the video below, Chen produces a letter to the both of them in which Lin acknowledged having written it when he was 9. My translation below the video.

When Chen hands over the envelop to Xie, her first comment is that “his writing was much better-looking then.” Lin then explains that those envelopes were pre-written with address by his mother. The host then teases Lin with the fact that “妈妈” characters were throughout the letter, telling the audience he must have been missing his mother dearly.

The audience laughs.

Chen reads the letter (my translation):

Dear Mom,

How are you?

At moments when I am most lonely, when I see other kid’s mothers arrive, how much I long to get a glimpse of you.

But, you left in such a hurry! Mom, I don’t feel like eating. I can’t sleep.

Mom, every night when I see other mothers bringing snack for their children, how I long to take a bite of theirs!

But, I can’t eat theirs. That is not mine.

I cried.

Mom, there’s another month or so before I can return home.

Mom, every night, I wait and I look to see if you’d come.

Mom, I beg you.

Mom, I miss you so much.

Mom, my sports schooling is going really well. Please do not worry.

Mom, wish you good health and everything well.

Mom, you must come!

I will wait for you.

Bye Mom.

Okay, I have said everything in my heart.

Mom, make sure you come!

Every moment, I’ll be waiting for you.

You son,

Lin Dan

The 9 year-old Lin’s letter captured the feelings of many Chinese athletes in these last few decades. The Chinese has a saying, “吃苦,” which literally translates to eat bitterness and means to bear hardship. This mindset has allowed Chinese of the last few centuries to prevail. It is the same mindset that enables Chinese athletes to train harder.

I can imagine Lin’s mother, upon receiving so many such letters, had her share of “吃苦” too. I can imagine the countless tears she has shed.

Many readers may immediately think about sacrifice. The forward-looking me at the moment says that a prosperous China will completely change the game such that “吃苦” is increasingly a thing of the past. Today, Lin’s mother could easily hop on a train, a car, or an airplane to wherever her son is. One, the infrastructure is there. Two, her family has the financial means to travel. Those mothers who brought snacks to the other kids would have ample snack to share with a Lin of today. Kids and parents could video-chat with each other on Tencent’s QQ.

Boarding schools is a norm, even in the United States. For example, top U.S. gymnasts now move to Des Moines, Iowa to attend Liang Qiao’s school.

China’s future athletes will start sport as a hobby, because society can afford that path. Families will not have to make such gut-wrenching bets as China has done to produce her world-class athletes.

Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, left, China’s Lin Dan and Chen Long show off their medals after the men’s singles at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photograph: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

  1. August 7th, 2012 at 19:29 | #1

    Peter Gade called Lin Dan the greatest badminton player ever before Lin’s Olympic gold. Lin is quite possibly the greatest Chinese athlete, or even the greatest athlete ever.

    When Lee lost to Lin at the very close Olympic final, I felt for Lee… I wish that there was tie in badminton, and Lee could get the world title that he deserves. Living in any other eras, Lee could’ve been easily a multi-world title winner.

  2. Rhan
    August 7th, 2012 at 20:56 | #2

    I know very little of Indonesia Rudy Hartono (梁海量), the eight times All Englang champion, and Lim Swee King (林水镜), but eighties were the most interesting era of badminton when China started to compete, they are one that break the monopoly of Indonesian along with players like Morton Frost (Denmark) and Prakash Padukone (India). Among the great China singles, I rank Luan Jin (栾劲), Han Jian (韩建), Zhao Jian Hua (赵剑华)and Yang Yang (杨阳)the best. The most enjoyable to watch is of course the attacking type like Lim Swee King and Yang Yang, their smashing is sharp and swift and the background roaring support from audience make the game an truly extraordinary experience, I recalled some government minister even raised the question of Chinese Malaysian loyalty that seem to fully cheer on Yang Yang.

    I personally rate Zhao Jian Hua the greatest during his peak, he can be both attacking and defensive, his net play is amazing, his only weakness is stamina. I can’t think of anyone else that have a balance skill like him, maybe Rudy Hartono, or Lin Dan.

    On the Olympic final, most of us have the impression that either Lee has improved or Lin Dan deteriorated, too bad there is no surprise.

  3. August 7th, 2012 at 23:09 | #3

    I also like the fact that both athletes are friends. I read some where Lee attended Lin Dan’s wedding.

    Asians really should continue to push this sport and make it their NBA. I always wondered how much of a percentage contribution to GDP is NBA, NFL, NHL, Baseball etc to the U.S.. Don’t forget the merchandising these leagues enjoy in foreign markets.

  4. Sigmar
    August 8th, 2012 at 00:17 | #4

    The trouble is, the World Badminton Federation is controlled predominantly by non-Asians and they may not be partial towards certain groups of Asians. Just look at the way they disqualified Chinese, Korean and Indonesian players in the Olympics through a subjective criteria (deliberate “poor” play) even though nothing concrete in the rules of badminton was broken by these players. Contrast their attitudes towards Indian complaints regarding the Japanese for similar offenses.

    Before badminton can be promoted as a marketable global sport, I think that it’s best for the Chinese, Koreans and Indonesians to first hold important positions within the WBF.

  5. August 8th, 2012 at 12:34 | #5

    Jackie Chan also went through similar boarding school. Not too many people know about that.

  6. no-name
    August 8th, 2012 at 23:09 | #6

    Lee is a nice guy and he won Olympic silver in 2008 but he was not allowed to carry his country’s flag during the opening ceremony. It speaks volumes on behalf of those who continue to think Lin Dan fully deserves his badminton gold. Back home Lee has promised the crowd that he will try one more time
    in Rio in 2016. What to do. An empty or hollow promise is better than no promise. Poor Lee.

  7. JJ
    August 9th, 2012 at 06:29 | #7

    Thanks for this article.

    It’s so annoying to read in the Western Corporate Media how Chinese athletes are “robotic automatons.” It’s like they cannot believe the athletes can not only be amazing at the sport, but also love it too.

    It’s the same racist drivel I heard when Asians were excelling at piano and other Western classical instruments: That we had great technical skills, but lacked the “passion.”

  8. Zack
    August 10th, 2012 at 00:39 | #8


    anyway, let them be as dishonest as they are; we shall continue revealing their dishonesty for all the world to see, and they shall be made to suffer for it

  9. August 14th, 2012 at 09:52 | #9


    Belated comment. Hartono were several years older than Lim. Lim started beating Hartono more than the other way around after Lim turned 20. In that sense, Hartono and Lim should be largely at the same level. The difference was that Lim got to meet the Chinese players during his peak years. The first time Lim met the Chinese players at a major international meet was the 1974 Tehran Asian Games, when both the gold and the silver were won by the Chinese. In my opinion, the legendary badminton players in the old days needed to be hugely discounted much like white sprinters before black athletes came to the scene in large quantity. Hartono won a load of All England trophies, but the Chinese didn’t play until the early 80s.

    Zhao was very beautiful to watch. He was sort of like the anti-Han Jian. Zhao could win a few points in his breathtakingly marvelous ways, and then make a couple of dumb errors. To me, Zhao was not as good as Yang Yang, and their respective winnings showed that. None of the past Chinese greats had been remotely as accomplished as Lin Dan.

    Lin makes $millions a year, mostly in endorsement deals. His prize money in 2011 was some $200k, which is the equivalent of what a tennis grand slam quarter-finalist takes home, in a single event. The whole ecosystem of badminton competition is a bid screwy if you ask me. Lin often withdrew from some badminton Super Series games, or allegedly lost to other Chinese players to boost their rankings. If the winning of a top Super Series champ is say $750k, instead of $75k (Korean Open), I bet Lin will not easily withdraw from it. The key to me is boosting TV revenue…

  10. August 14th, 2012 at 10:30 | #10


    It’s so annoying to read in the Western Corporate Media how Chinese athletes are “robotic automatons.” It’s like they cannot believe the athletes can not only be amazing at the sport, but also love it too.

    It’s hard to paint Lin Dan a “robot”, with his tattoos, on-the-court persona, and over-the-top post-winning celebrations. The story line is, Lin is an outliner, and all the rest Chinese athletes are still “robots”. Hey, Lin’s got a new cross tattoo, right? Maybe he is an anti-CCP closeted Christian yearning for, freedom, human rights, liberty, you know, all the good stuffs…

    There are many of the human stories that aren’t told in the Western world. For example, Liu Xiaobo (刘哮波) after winning a taekwondo bronze, asked his girlfriend to marry him. There is another layer that many probably wound miss. Liu’s girlfriend is in women’s football. Both women’s football and taekwondo are sports starving for funding in China. You can imagine their prospects up to this point had been largely dim, and Liu reportedly wanted to give up if not for his girlfriend’s continuous encouragement. Granted, a bronze medal probably won’t amount to much in China, but it’s good enough for the young man to propose through the TV tube. While we’re at this topic, I am somewhat saddened by the team that produced Sun Wen is in decline, while their once arch-rival American women’s football team is thriving. Where is China’s Alex Morgan?

    Often time the gap is bridged by those straddling between two cultures. Case in point, in the closing ceremony, Rio’s 8 minutes, there was a samba dancing garbage man in orange suit named Renato Sorriso, who is a larger than life character in Rio. Read this:

    [I]n New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson’s blog: “In the middle of the stadium is Renato Sorriso, ‘the garbage collector who is a samba dancer and a symbol of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival.’ Seriously. A samba dancing garbage man is Rio’s introduction to the world.” So arrogant. So smug. So ready to put Rio down. Robertson obviously considers a samba-dancing garbage man pretty low down on the food chain.

    If you go to Robertson’s blog, the entry is gone. Obviously after an American expat in Brazil had told him how silly his point was, he removed it.

    The question, what the heck are the Western expats in China doing? Are they bridging the gap, or widening the gap. In the meantime, equally a question can be asked, is Hidden Harmonies bridging the gap, or widening the gap? Just saying…

  11. August 14th, 2012 at 10:58 | #11

    Towards your last question – that’s something we contemplate all the time.

    Curious what your ever insightful brain says. I can see both sides of the coin. A reader, Naqshbandiyya, once suggested HH readers should try their best to combat misconceptions, especially within their circle of family and friends. But I can also see HH fueling anguish as we expose the wickedness that exist in the Western press.

  12. Ricky
    August 14th, 2012 at 11:09 | #12


    Do you think that people go to Western expat sites or Hidden Harmonies to bridge the gap, or simply to find people that share a similar world view?

    Does either side of the coin embrace diaologue with people that have different world views?

  13. Ricky
    August 15th, 2012 at 01:07 | #13

    How ironic. I post a question about dialogue and nobody replies.

  14. Sigmar
    August 15th, 2012 at 09:16 | #14


    Not ironic at all. The word should be “impatient” and it fits you to a tee. First off, your question at #12 is directed at jxie. If he is busy, then don’t be surprised that “nobody” replies because “nobody” plans to speak on behalf of him. Secondly, nobody here gave you any authority to expect and demand answers within a set time period. We all have commitments outside the forum and have the right to answer when we deem appropriate … or not. The irony should be that you expect other people to reply according to your expectations, while talking about embracing dialogue. That’s why you find it “ironic” that nobody answers because you feel entitled to an answer. That’s not exactly a good attitude to carry to a dialogue. Finally, this thread is about Lin Dan, not about meditations on dialogue. What you are doing constitutes thread hijacking and is a trolling offence. Mods, be alerted.

  15. Ricky
    August 15th, 2012 at 09:53 | #15

    I was continuing Jxie’s train of thought. I was a bit down-beat that nobody replied because there were a load of other people on at that time and I thought someone else might reply. Now when I look at #13 it does look a bit impatient. But there’s no need to go flying off at me for it. A polite word or two would suffice.

  16. Ricky
    August 15th, 2012 at 09:53 | #16
  17. August 15th, 2012 at 09:56 | #17


    Well it depends what you try to accomplish. Is this site meant to share information, provide mutual support among the like-minded folks, OR, to get the messages out?

    If you want to get the messages out, like the late Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This also means not just getting the messages out, but also taking the messages in. In other words, if you want to change the others, first get ready to be changed. Not until you fully and emphatically understand the other side, you can’t possibly change the other side.

    Which brings up the practical side of the question. The Google page rank of HH is at 4/10, which by itself isn’t too bad. ChinaSMACK is at 6/10, because it’s being referenced to a lot in the Internet. Managing ChinaSMACK probably takes a lot more time and effort, and quite honestly I question its usefulness — they are like translating youtube’s comments to the foreign audience, as if the comments representing America. Maybe at 4/10 (and eventually squeeze a 5/10 out), it’s good enough. However, if you want to get to a higher page rank (6, 7, or even 8/10), you will likely need,

    1. Considerably more time & energy, or at least more admins.
    2. More open, rigorous and hopefully intelligent discussions.


    Probably the latter – “to find people that share a similar world view”. However, in this particular case, accusing Chinese athletes as “robots” is quite easy to shoot down, if you live in China and pay attention the countless human stories on TV, news or the Internet. My theory is that many of these Western expats are living in their own bubble, and have never quite gone through the submerging cultural experience.

  18. Ricky
    August 15th, 2012 at 09:59 | #18

    Sorry for being impatient earlier.

  19. Ricky
    August 15th, 2012 at 10:07 | #19

    ‘Probably the latter.’

    Which is a shame. The internet could be used as a great tool for dialogue. I’ve looked at sites on both sides of the coin. I don’t see a lot of evidence of people changing their opinions on anything. It just looks like people reinforce their existing opinions by drawing strength from others and by accumulating more ‘facts’ to back them up.

  20. August 15th, 2012 at 10:22 | #20

    Agreed with your observation there.

  21. August 15th, 2012 at 10:40 | #21

    In regards to #2, I think we both know more of that on a forum like this doesn’t really help. You were probably around during the Fool’s Mountain days with Buxi and then Allen, and in my opinion, doing a really good job trying to be rigorous (i’d like to think then and now certainly always intelligent) in the discussions. What we see is those on the other side of the aisle continued their line of China-bashing still unabated today.

    Some Western journalists working in China do read HH and some of us have private exchanges with them on perspectives. That’s an area I am hoping to spend more time on going forward, and perhaps formalize some of that in the future.

    That said, I do think, if anything, providing support for like-minded folks is important, and probably more so than many might realize. If we want to be true to ourselves and not betray our own views, then we owe each other support. The onslaught of defamation and misconceptions in the Wester press can frankly be a depressing influence on us as individuals. Anyways, not many, but I think ever slowly more Westerners are beginning to wake up to the misconceptions in the press.

    You have been helping with #1 and #2. Help us encourage others to chime in. Propose ideas. Allen and I – and other contributors here – we desperately need more help.

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