Does the Chinese Government Have a Problem with Knicks’ Jeremy Lin?

Over the last two weeks New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has become the most popular athlete in America. Among diehard and casual basketball fans, whether you think he’s underhyped, overhyped or appropriately hyped, the general consensus is that Lin can ball with the best of them.

There can obviously be substantive debates on how good the youngster really is and whether he can continue his hot streak through the end of the year, but the fact remains – Linsanity is very real.

But is Linsanity only an American phenomenon, or does it extend overseas into Asia? You might be surprised.

Lin is unquestionably the most popular Asian star the NBA has had since Yao Ming, and with the big man’s retirement, the general assumption was that countries like China would embrace another star their people could look up to. Lin may not be as huge as Ming, but he could still fill a hole that the latter player left behind when he called it quits.

According to a fascinating article by ABC News, however, the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be embracing the youngster like you would figure they might. In fact, state-run Chinese television didn’t even bother broadcasting Tuesday night’s highly anticipated Knicks versus Toronto Raptors showdown despite the public eagerly looking forward to it.

Why? An unfortunate combination of religious restriction, cultural beliefs and heavy government control over the media, apparently.

Per the report:

Like Tebow, Lin is public about his Christianity and has reportedly spoken in the past about one day becoming a pastor.  The Chinese government maintains strict control over the Christian church here, and some followers have faced religious persecution in the past.  Skeptics fear the government believes the growth of Lin’s legend through social media is giving faithful fans a way to celebrate a sports star and Jesus at the same time.

If not his faith, the online community wonders, maybe it is his ancestry.

Lin is an American of Taiwanese descent.  His grandmother reportedly fled Zhejiang province outside Shanghai to Taiwan in the late 1940s as the Chinese civil war came to a close.  His parents were born there, and Lin was born in the U.S. China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and many in the government expect to see it absorbed back into China’s borders one day.  For Chinese to celebrate a Taiwanese superstar is a sensitive proposition.  Online forums are awash in speculation that the Chinese government does approve of fans waving Taiwanese flags during Lin’s games.

What do you think: does the Chinese government have a problem with Lin’s success? And to take it a step further, if they do have a problem with it, what does that tell us about Chinese government?

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