Reading Assignment — “Linsanity”

Even though their future leader has been touring the US this week, the big buzz among the laobaixing (common people) the past couple of weeks has been the story of Jeremy Lin, the NBA’s first Chinese-American star. The puns that have flowed forth have been endless (including, you might notice, in the title of this blog), and the chattering classes on both sides of the ocean have all worked overtime to both feed and try to make sense of this “Linsanity” that is sweeping the globe.

One of the appeals of Jeremy Lin in China is due to the fact that he is Chinese, a member of the race the Chinese call “Hua Ren”(华人) — “Flower People.” Even though he was born and raised in the US, and his family is from Taiwan, he is still considered to be Chinese.  In a culture that distinguishes between two kinds of people, Chinese and non-Chinese, this is a big deal. His Taiwan connections through a bit of politics into the mix, which makes the story even more interesting (and complicated for the government’s propaganda arm).

There were two pieces this week that addressed these angles of the “Linsanity” story.  In the “Letter from China” blog of the New Yorker, Evan Osnos wrote a post titled “China Catches Linfengkuang.”:

Any athlete of Chinese descent who reaches the pros in America draws some attention in China, but nothing compared to the sensation that Lin has sparked on the mainland in the last two weeks. Never mind his two hundred thousand followers on Twitter; on the Chinese version, he already has three-quarters of a million. Last week, Lin rocketed to the number-one most searched item on Baidu, the Chinese search engine.

Lin Shuhao, as he’s known here—Linsanity has been translated to linfengkuang—is drawing attention not only for the breakout performances that have endeared him to American fans, but for qualities of particular interest to the Chinese: his earning power, his bi-cultural roots, and his place in the complex dynamic of mainland China’s relations with Taiwan. “You know his agent’s phone is ringing off the hook,” one Beijinger put it. With Yao Ming in retirement, Chinese fans (and N.B.A. marketers) are desperate for a new draw in China, and Lin has potential. He understands Mandarin, and speaks enough of it to answer some interview questions, though one joke making the rounds is that former Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury—who has spent the last two years in the Chinese league—might have better pronunciation. Most fans appear to have readily claimed Lin as Chinese, though some have taken note of the fact that he is American-born, with parents from the breakaway island of Taiwan. As one commentator put it: “Do Africans jump up to claim Kobe as one of their countrymen?”

Chinese editorialists and microbloggers have rhapsodized about Lin’s extraordinary skills and cool in millions of microblog posts and they’re often just as fixated on Lin’s race. Many have claimed Lin for China, calling him the “Pride of Zhejiang,” in honor of his mother’s place of origin. Commentators have also discussed whether his success is in some way shared by ethnic Chinese everywhere, and why Chinese nationals can’t succeed like he does. It’s a frank conversation, conducted in terms that could make politically-correct Americans squirm.
He goes on to write how the Chinese propensity (obsession) for making comparisons is also component of “Linsanity:”

Chinese sports fans differ from their American counterparts because they are not just inclined to identify with their race, but to compare it with other races. This isn’t quite as sinister as it may sound on first pass. Contemporary Chinese culture is driven by competition and rankings (one need only look at China’s brutal college entrance examinations). As citizens of a rising power, it’s only natural that the Chinese have a tendency to measure national progress against those perceived as the leaders.

The other piece of the Jeremy Lin story is his openness about his Christian faith. This has been a a big (and exciting) topic on the Christian blogs and microblogs in China, but for the Chinese censors, however, it’s been a bit of a headache.


(photo source: The New Yorker)