Reports

    Meet China’s sporting superwomen

    For International Women’s Day, ‘Jing Daily’ spotlights China’s female athletes conquering gender stereotypes in sports, catching luxury’s eye, and putting the country’s sports scene on the global stage.
    Eileen Gu for Louis Vuitton. Photo: Louis Vuitton
      Published   in KOL

    China’s female athletes are kicking the country’s traditional stereotypes to the curb.

    As the mainland’s “she economy” booms and major sporting events like Beijing's 2022 Winter Olympics draw in more female viewers, local female athletes have gone from sideline to center field across China. Companies are rushing en masse to snap up the role models thanks to their growing cultural status.

    In 2024, women’s elite sports are expected to generate global revenue of $1.28 billion (£1.02 billion), according to Deloitte, with experts predicting that, by 2030, women’s sport will generate more than $1.36 billion a year.

    “Domestic sportswomen symbolize strength, resilience, empowerment, and challenging gender norms,” Olivia Plotnick, founder of Wai Social tells Jing Daily.

    The draw behind women in sports orbits several factors, Plotnick says, including “their growing influence and alignment with brand values, such as athleticism, determination, and excellence; the pursuit of expanding market reach to younger consumers who are active on social media and engaged with sports; and the cultural relevance of sports like gymnastics, diving, volleyball and badminton, which hold significant importance in China.”

    Luxury has wasted no time in strengthening its ties with China’s sporting power players. In 2022, Dior bet big on the country’s female athleisure market by rolling out a series of video workout tutorials hosted by local female athletes, including speed skater Zhang Hong and surfer Darci Liu. Prada became the official partner of the Chinese Women’s National Football Team last July.

    “Female athletes offer brands unique opportunities for partnerships due to their embodiment of strength, determination, and authenticity. They have showcased their physical prowess, mental resilience, and dedication to their craft, which resonates strongly with audiences who are seeking inspiration and empowerment, especially when they pursue their passions and overcome obstacles,” influencer marketer and Chinese social media expert Lin Du says.

    In honor of International Women’s Day, Jing Daily spotlights China’s leading ladies in sports and their accomplishments, plus their impact on the mainland’s flourishing athletic landscape.

    Eileen Gu's athletic prowess has caught the attention of brands including Louis Vuitton and Victoria's Secret. Photo: Code Sports
    Eileen Gu's athletic prowess has caught the attention of brands including Louis Vuitton and Victoria's Secret. Photo: Code Sports

    Eileen Gu#

    Social context: 6.5 million Weibo followers

    Brands: Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, IWC, Porsche, Estée Lauder, Victoria’s Secret

    Who they are: Eileen Gu, a rising star in the world of sports and fashion, gained widespread fame as an accomplished freestyle skier when she made history as the youngest athlete to represent China at the Winter Olympics at 18 in 2022. Beyond her athletic prowess, Gu has emerged as a sought-after figure in luxury fashion circles, featuring in campaigns for Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, and Estée Lauder, as well as Victoria’s Secret. As a young cultural icon and fashion muse, Gu has cultivated a strong fanbase among China’s spritely Gen Z, while gaining prominence on the international stage. Her profile took off during China’s winter sports craze, further amplifying her status – according to the China Tourism Academy, during the 2024-25 ice and snow season, China’s winter leisure tourism sector is expected to generate revenue of more than 720 billion RMB (around $107 billion) from over 520 million visitors.

    Tennis star Zheng Qinwen is making strides in China. Photo: Zheng Qinwen
    Tennis star Zheng Qinwen is making strides in China. Photo: Zheng Qinwen

    Zheng Qinwen#

    Social context: 1.5 million Weibo followers

    Brands: Rolex, Nike, McDonald’s, Alipay

    Who are they: China’s one-to-watch sporting star tennis prodigy Zheng Qinwen, rose to fame earlier this year after becoming the first person from China to reach a Grand Slam final in 10 years. Thanks to government backing, a rise in the “tenniscore” aesthetic, and the reopening of events such as The Rolex Shanghai Masters and The Women’s Tennis Association post-pandemic, tennis is experiencing a rebirth in China; around 20 million people in the country play it on 30,000 to 40,000 courts, according to the International Tennis Federation’s global report, with the country accounting for 22.9 percent of the world’s players in 2021. Luxury brands are already vying for Qinwen’s attention, with Swiss watchmaker Rolex signing a multi-year deal with the athlete last October.

    Shuyu Yang has been picked up by the likes of Prada for her androgynous style and talent on the pitch. Photo: Fiba.basketball
    Shuyu Yang has been picked up by the likes of Prada for her androgynous style and talent on the pitch. Photo: Fiba.basketball

    Shuyu Yang#

    Social context: 3.3 million Weibo followers

    Brands: Prada

    Their impact: Renowned for helping China score a bronze medal in the women’s 3x3 basketball tournament in the 2020 Summer Olympics, Shuyu Yang has surfaced as the country’s androgynous sporting superstar. The athlete’s gender-neutral style struck a chord with Prada, which appointed Yang as its brand ambassador last May, and featured her in its Douyin SS22 campaign. The brand has been doubling down on growing its acclaimed athlete roster following scandals involving actors Zheng Shuang and Li Yifeng. While basketball remains one of – if not, the – most popular sports in China, the mainland’s women’s teams has overtaken the men’s division in terms of performance, prompting more women across the country to take an interest in the activity.

    Zhang Yufei is best known for her world-class butterfly form. Photo: Olympics
    Zhang Yufei is best known for her world-class butterfly form. Photo: Olympics

    Zhang Yufei#

    Social context: 2.1 million Weibo followers

    Brands: Anta, Speedo

    Their impact: Zhang Yufei is considered one of the most promising swimmers participating in international competitions. The athlete’s career spans the Youth Olympics, Asian Games, World Championships and the Summer Olympics; in 2023, she was named as the most valuable player in the women’s division. While Zhang is yet to ink any endorsements with luxury brands, local companies have scrambled to secure her backing. The swimmer has been widely embraced by the Chinese public and government-backed media, thanks to her positive and uplifting impact on the mainland’s younger fan bases.

    Prada became the official partner of China's National Football Team last year. Photo: Prada
    Prada became the official partner of China's National Football Team last year. Photo: Prada

    China’s National Football Team#

    Social context: 615,000 Weibo followers

    Brands: Prada

    Their impact: With interest in football among women across China surging, all eyes are on the country’s national women’s football team. Surpassing its male counterpart in the popularity stakes at home, the team has earned itself a solid reputation – fueled by its Asian Cup win in 2022. Its renown caught the attention of Prada last year, which became the team’s official partner in July. Women accounted for 44.8% of online engagement in China relating to the recent FIFA World Cup competition held between September and October last year, according to Beijing-based big data firm QuestMobile

    Darci Liu has worked alongside Dior and Nike. Photo: Darci Liu
    Darci Liu has worked alongside Dior and Nike. Photo: Darci Liu

    Darci (Darsea) Liu#

    Social context: 210.7k Weibo followers

    Brands: Dior, Nike

    Who they are: As the first Chinese woman to qualify for the World Surf League Championship Tour, Darci (aka Darsea) Liu became a symbol of empowerment and inspiration across the mainland in 2011 before quitting in 2015 to focus on advocating for environmentalism and ocean conservation. Yet, even following her retirement from professional surfing, luxury remains enamored with Liu’s ethos and her pioneering of surfing in China; in 2022, Liu participated in Dior’s “Dior Vibe” campaign, designed to empower women to take part in male-dominated activities. As beach culture gains traction and surfing communities form across China’s wave-riding hotspots like Houhai Bay, surfing influencers and athletes will be ones to watch in the outdoors sports scene.


    • Female athletes are picking up steam across China, as they symbolize strength, resilience, empowerment, and challenging gender norms.
    • Global luxury brands are rushing en masse to appoint China's female athletes as ambassadors and partners to tap into their fanbases.
    • Female-oriented sports are gaining traction across China and internationally. In 2024, women’s elite sports are expected to generate global revenue of $1.28 billion (£1.02 billion), according to Deloitte.
    • Sports such as surfing and skiing have found a fanbase across China, as lifestyle choices such as beach culture and Après-ski experience a rise in popularity.
    • Athletes make a safer, more authentic choice for luxury brands today, but they aren't entirely risk-free. Last month saw Messi embroiled in controversy following his lack of play during Hong Kong's friendly match.
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