Gronya Somerville poses as the global spokesperson of the Dream of the Red Chamber character contest. (Photo courtesy of www.hongloumengshijie.com)
The great granddaughter of a prominent political reformer from the late Qing Dynasty has become the unexpected new star of the badminton world.
Gronya Somerville, an 18-year-old representing Australia at the Sudirman Cup world mixed team badminton championship currently underway in Malaysia, is turning heads with both her beauty and her famous ancestry. Somerville is the great granddaughter of Kang Youwei, a renowned Chinese scholar, calligrapher and political reformer who rose to prominence during the late Qing Dynasty with an ambitious but ill-fated attempt to turn China into a constitutional monarchy at the turn of the 20th century.
Born in Melbourne in 1995, Somerville first captured the attention of the badminton world when she represented Australia at last year's Uber Cup in Wuhan, the capital of central China's Hubei province, drawing extensive coverage from local media. She is currently ranked No. 82 in the Badminton World Federation Junior Rankings for women's doubles and No. 233 for mixed doubles, and No. 104 in women's doubles and No. 200 in mixed doubles in the overall BWF rankings.
Somerville's father, Kang's grandson, moved from southern China's Guangdong province to Australia at the age of six. Though her father passed away when she was still young, Somerville's mother made sure she embraced her Chinese heritage and sent her to a Chinese school for a number of years to learn the language. She has an older brother and sister and her idol is reportedly Chinese badminton superstar Lin Dan.
Though Somerville plans to attend university to study either sports science or biology, she says her goal is to represent Australia at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Somerville is also reportedly interested in branching out into the Asian entertainment industry. In November 2011, she struck a deal to become the global spokesperson for the Dream of the Red Chamber character contest, a unisex beauty contest for people who think they would make a good character in the classic Chinese romance novel.
Somerville and her partner Renuga Veeran dominated the opening tie of the Sudirman Cup on Monday after taking down their Lithuanian opponents 21-7 and 21-10 in just 19 minutes.
He wasn't a sportsman, but Somerville's illustrious ancestor Kang Youwei was an exceptional scholar and radical free thinker during China's late imperial period — he was, for example, an early proponent of the idea of sexual equality and free love, believing that marriage should be a contract lasting no more than a year. Kang's proposals to transform the country by adopting Western science and political institutions in the same way that had proved so effective in Japan could have seen China's modern history take a radically different path had they succeeded.
Having caught the ear of the Guangxu emperor, Kang was the driving force between the Hundred Days' Reform of 1898, in which the young emperor approved a radical overhaul of China's ancient imperial system to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy with democracy, and introduce a program of rapid industrialization backed by a modern scientific system of education. The changes were too much however for conservative elements in the Qing court led by the fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi, who stepped in to overrule the reforms and sideline Guangxu for the remainder of his reign, thereby crushing any hope that the Qing could embrace the institutional changes China needed to survive at the turn of the 20th century. Kang was sentenced to the death of a thousand cuts and fled to Japan to escape execution. The Qing, China's last imperial dynasty, would be overthrown in 1911.
Another curious link between the late Qing reform movement and modern sports was provided recently when the former NBA star Stephon Marbury, currently playing professionally in China, came across a picture of Liang Qichao, one of Kang's students and a fellow leader of the 1898 reforms. Noting a physical likeness between himself and Liang, Marbury declared on Weibo that he had found "his Chinese brother."
Kang Youwei 康有為
Lin Dan 林丹
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