Chinese tennis star Zheng Jie is no chicken

Julian Finney/Getty Images Here’s a lesson in cultural diplomacy. Zheng Jie, a native of earthquake-ravaged Sichuan province in China, is the first Chinese tennis player to make a Grand Slam semifinal, and the most successful wild card competitor in Wimbledon’s history. She’s a towering figure in Chinese sports, and yet Western broadcasters can’t even say ...

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594247_080703_zheng5.jpg

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Here's a lesson in cultural diplomacy.

Zheng Jie, a native of earthquake-ravaged Sichuan province in China, is the first Chinese tennis player to make a Grand Slam semifinal, and the most successful wild card competitor in Wimbledon's history. She's a towering figure in Chinese sports, and yet Western broadcasters can't even say her name properly. In fact, sometimes, they are inadvertently calling her a prostitute or a chicken.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Here’s a lesson in cultural diplomacy.

Zheng Jie, a native of earthquake-ravaged Sichuan province in China, is the first Chinese tennis player to make a Grand Slam semifinal, and the most successful wild card competitor in Wimbledon’s history. She’s a towering figure in Chinese sports, and yet Western broadcasters can’t even say her name properly. In fact, sometimes, they are inadvertently calling her a prostitute or a chicken.

I’ve been squirming on my couch for a few days listening to ESPN and NBC butcher the 24-year-old’s name every 10 minutes. I don’t expect your average American to get it right off the bat, but 2008 is the year of the Beijing Olympics, and the networks need to be on their game when it comes to China. Some Wimbledon commentators claim they’ve been to Beijing to prepare for the games. Yet even the Wimbledon court announcer said her name properly while the commentators — who clearly need to attend remedial Chinese name pronunciation school — stammered.

It would take an hour at most to grasp the pronunciation system, and then we could avoid reducing a language with thousands of years of history and more than a billion speakers to a bunch of garbled, quasi-French “j” sounds. Her name isn’t Je je or Jeng jee. It’s Jung ji-eh (with a hard “j” like “jump”). Jee or “ji” can mean “chicken,” “prostitute,” or even, ironically, “difficult to pronounce.”

Zheng lost to Serena Williams today, meaning that the Williams sisters will go at it on Saturday in the final and I’ll be spared — for the time being — hearing her name butchered. The Chinese star plans to donate much of her Wimbledon prize money to victims of the Sichuan earthquake, as she did with her French Open third-round proceeds. According to the Boston Herald, the rest of the money will go toward the Chinese Tennis Association.

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