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Chinese Swimmer Fu Yuanhui Celebrated For Breaking Period Taboo

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

One Olympian who has become a fan favorite is Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FU YUANHUI: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: When she learned she'd won bronze in the 100-meter backstroke, her face lit up. Wow, too fast - I broke the Asian record, she said.

HAN ZHANG: People call her (foreign language spoken), which is like she's a walking emoji set.

SHAPIRO: A walking emoji set - that's Chinese journalist Han Zhang. So people were already paying attention to the swimmer when she said something unusual on Sunday. Her team finished fourth in the four-by-100 medley relay, and grimacing in pain, she explained to an interviewer why she was a bit off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FU: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "It's because I just got my period yesterday," Fu said, "so I'm still a bit weak and really tired." China's social network lit up. Talking about menstruation is still taboo in China. The country doesn't even have a domestic tampon maker, though the first is scheduled to open soon. So Fu's remarks broke a barrier, says journalist Han Zhang.

ZHANG: It's really amazing because it did not just touch on being a sports woman but also, like, feminism in games. And there are so many layers to it. But the first reaction is, oh, I can't believe she said that. And of course she did that - just saying a lot of things that popular swimmers were not really saying before her.

SHAPIRO: So Fu may not have won gold on Sunday, but as CNN put it, she won the internet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.