China's Fu Yuanhui's Olympic honesty shows times are changing in China

China’s Fu Yuanhui poses with her bronze medal on the podium of the Women’s 100m Backstroke during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 8, 2016.


BEIJING -- When Xu Haifeng won the first gold medal for Communist China at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he smiled humbly and paid quiet respect to the Chinese flag (see below).

The first piece of the Chinese Olympic gold medal by ISSFTV on YouTube

Such quiet humility is not for China’s millennials, it seems.

Fu Yuanhui, a 20-year-old Chinese swimmer competing in Rio de Janeiro, has more than six million followers on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. When she tweeted a photo jokingly doctored to make her look taller, it was re-tweeted 120,000 times.

Fu Yuanhui shatters another barrier

Female athletes don't usually discuss their periods. But Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer and Olympic bronze medalist, is no ordinary athlete.

Posted by CBS News on Tuesday, August 16, 2016

When she 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.

On Sunday, Fu made news again by breaking the Chinese taboo of publically discussing menstruation after the Chinese team came in fourth place in the 4x100m women’s medley relay.

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.”

Those remarks are in stark contrast with the traditional, formulaic speech Chinese winners give at Olympics; thank the Communist Party, thank the people, thank the country.

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.

Filed by CBS News’ Shuai Zhang in Beijing.