Why It’s Especially Surprising for a Chinese Swimmer to Talk About Her Period

Fu Yuanhui.
Fu Yuanhui. Photo: Getty Images

On Saturday night, Chinese swimming star Fu Yuanhui apologized to her teammates for not performing well in their 4x100 medley relay. One teammate helped her stand up for a live post-race interview, where she explained that she’d gotten her period the night before and felt tired and weak. This is a bigger deal than it seems since only a fraction of Chinese women use tampons due to cultural reasons.

After Yuanhui’s frank comments, she became a trending topic on the Chinese social-networking site Weibo, Quartz reports, and both men and women asked why there wasn’t blood in the pool. Tampons, that’s why. Thanks to Yuanhui, some people learned for the first time that women can swim when they have their period.

Only 2 percent of Chinese women use tampons, according to a 2015 survey, and only a quarter of women who don’t already said they would try tampons if told how to use them. (By contrast, 70 percent of American women use tampons; they’ve been around here since the ‘30s.) Sex education in China is apparently lackluster, and the myth that tampons can break a woman’s hymen persists — not helpful in a country that still has a so-called “virginity fetish.” Some women are told not to use tampons until they’re married.

But that is slowly changing. Certain Chinese stores do import tampons from the United States and Europe and they say interest is growing. Simon Lai, owner of personal-care site Puff House told USA Today that he sold $770,000 worth of Kotex and Tampax last year. Importers say their customers are most often young women who work in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

And later this month, China will have its first domestically manufactured brand, Danbishuang. Founder Ye Deliang said the tampons will first be sold online; then, he’ll try to get them in sporting-goods stores and, since mothers are more likely to embrace them, mom-and-baby shops. But, notably, he won’t market them to girls under 18; Danbishuang boxes will carry a warning that teenagers shouldn’t use the product. Guess teen girls don’t play sports in China.

Swimming With a Tampon Is a Big Deal in China