Lin Shu Hao: American or Chinese, He’s Linsanity Alright

Forget about Yao Ming. He was so 2010. Since last weekend, Chinese have a new star whom they are willing to give up sleeping in on a Saturday morning to watch.This is not a dream. Jeremy Lin, or Lin Shuhao (林书豪) as his Chinese fans prefer to call him, has become a “legend” in China almost over night. Linsanity has spread across half of the globe to China, a country Lin owes part of his cultural heritage to.

On Weibo, Lin stays on top of the most talked about topics for over a week. From “Lin Shuhao Led Team to Seven Consecutive Wins” early last week and “Lin Shuhao Appears on the Cover of Time Magazine” (the current No. 1 searched topic on Weibo) a few days later, to “Lin Shuhao’s Fable Ended” on Saturday morning (Beijing time) and “Lin Shuhao 28 Points 14 Assists Defeated Mavericks” the next day, topics about Lin are getting tens of thousands of comments each day. 新浪NBA, the official weibo account of the largest Chinese portal website, calls him “the light of Asia,” and claims that “Linsanity has already become the hottest word in 2012.”

Lin’s Weibo account has almost 2 million followers, making his less than half a million followers worldwide on Twitter a quite moderate-sized crowd. Lin opened his bilingual Weibo account on May 8 last year and received instant attention. Lin had more than 10,000 Weibo followers only ten days after he set up his account, which was a surprise to him. “You guys are even cooler than my American fans, haha!,” he posted that day.

But it was his miraculous debut performances with NY Knicks that won him unprecedented popularity as an athlete with a non-Chinese citizenship. Even after Knicks were defeated by the Hornets on Friday, the fans still regarded him as a sort of demigod. As a fan defended him on Weibo, “He’s already a god. Nobody in this world can win all the time.”

While interest in Lin’s religion has been growing in the U.S. media, Chinese are quite indifferent to it perhaps partly because of the Chinese media’s downplay of the topic. Instead, people in China are more interested in Lin’s nationality and cultural identity.

Many Chinese are proud to share the same cultural heritage with him, but at the same time respect his American identity. People on Weibo have commented on the rumor that has been going around that China is trying to get Lin to play for the Chinese basketball team. “No matter how great Lin Shuhao is, he is an ABC (America Born Chinese), not Chinese, so some media professionals should show some respect,” a fan wrote. Another fan jokingly wrote, “Chinese say he’s Chinese, Americans say he’s American, South Koreans say he has Korean blood, and Taiwanese say you all shut up, he’s Taiwanese! He is Lin Shuhao who has swept the entire America.” “Lin Shuhao, I’ll support you forever. Asking you to come back to [China] to play is just a joke…” another fan wrote.

When it comes to allegiance to the Chinese cultural identity, some Chinese can be quite dogmatic. Just recently there was a public commotion over a Beijing University professor Kong Qingdong’s derogatory remarks concerning Hong Kongers’ post-colonial identities. However, in Lin’s case, although nationalist comments appear here and there, most Chinese fans seem to be pretty relaxed about Lin’s American identity, which can be considered a quite special treatment from the often relentless netizens in China. Just recently, Yao Ming had to publicly confirm that his daughter’s citizenship was American, and defend himself, saying that his daughter could change her nationality to Chinese when she’s eighteen.

Truth is, deep down, Chinese, perhaps not unlike Chinese Americans, are super psyched about this talented young man who is fast, strong, smart, and, most importantly, who wins. And no matter what, it looks that the Linanity is still going strong in China and it’s not going anywhere any time ssoon.

Jin Zhao


  1. Sportswriters say Lin has smashed the stereotype that Asians are brilliant test-takers but not athletic. How could that be a stereotype to begin with? China won 51 Gold Medals at the Beijing Olympics, more gold than any other nation, including the United States, which took home 31 Gold Medals.. The reality is that the Chinese are physically shorter and tend to be better at sports like gymnastics, platform diving, speed skating, badminton and, of course, ping pong. Americans athletes tend to be taller, so they excel at team sports. Even at 6-feet-three inches, Lin is often the shortest guy on the court—and he can slam dunk! Moreover, in some team sports, like women’s volleyball, Chinese gals often outshine female competitors from the West. A more esoteric theory of Lin’s success is his basketball I.Q. He has a high number of “assists”–getting the ball to the open man to help him score. Some might say this is a reflection of selfless collectivist values in China, the idea that teamwork is more important that individual triumph. Others might say it’s just good basketball. Finally, Lin seems to have an Asian holistic sense of a basketball court, sensing where his teammates are in his peripheral vision, much the way that Chinese players of the board game 围棋( “Go” in Japan and the US) must stay three steps ahead of their opponents to avoid being encircled and trapped. Lin always seems to be one step ahead of his defender and that cross-over dribble is almost unstoppable. No wonder Jeremy has so many Chinese 粉丝!

    • Good point. In fact, Lin has the image of a typical Chinese hero in the sense that he was first an underdog (being tossed around before he landed the NY Knicks gig) and quite small compared to many other basketball players, but then he surprised everybody with his “hidden” strength and intelligence. He shines against all odds. That’s Bruce Lee all over again. By comparison, Yao Ming, who stands at 7’6″, actually defies the stereotype of Asians perhaps more directly than Lin does. And I agree with you that Lin plays basketball in a certain holistic effortless “way,” which speaks to the Chinese like no other basketball player.

  2. With all due respect, Lin is not small. At 6’3, he is the size of a prototypical point guard – the same height as last season’s MVP, Derrick Rose, NBA Champion Chauncey Billups, and other great point guards like Deron Williams. He is actually taller that Chris Paul (6’1), who is considered the best point guard in all the NBA.

    I understand what you mean by being an underdog, (Asian, Harvard), but I don’t think height has anything to do with it. If he were 5’11, I’d consider him small, but average point guards are 6’0 to 6’3, so that makes him on the taller side. Jason Kidd is one of the tallest at 6’4.

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