New NBA sensation Jeremy Lin (林書豪) has sparked a war of words between Taiwan and China as the rivals seek to lay claim to being the New York Knicks player’s true ancestral homeland.
US-born Lin, whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants, has been hailed as “the glory of Taiwan” and inspired a feverish following in the nation after coming off the bench and powering the Knicks to a stunning run of triumphs this month.
His fans in Taiwan range from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to teenagers rushing to get a Lin haircut. The nation’s sports lottery has seen brisk sales as buyers place record bets on matches featuring him.
“It’s humbling, a privilege and an honor. I’m really proud of being Chinese, I’m really proud of my parents being from Taiwan,” Lin said in a recent interview.
However, there are also many across the Taiwan Strait who want to claim Lin as their own. His maternal grandmother is from China, and there are even outlandish calls for him to represent China in the upcoming Olympics.
“Lin is virtually a household name in China, like Yao Ming (姚明), and there is wave after wave of calls for him to join the Chinese basketball team in the London Olympics,” Xinhua news agency said.
Yao, China’s first global sporting icon, joined the Houston Rockets in 2002 as the first player from outside the US to be selected as the top NBA draft choice.
“Lin is making our China look good,” one message on China’s popular microblog Sina Weibo read.
“Lin is a legend in my family, even my mother who didn’t watch sports before now really likes him because he is Chinese and he can score,” another said.
Xinhua, which said Lin’s ancestors hail from Zhejiang Province, said that he would have to renounce his US citizenship to play for China.
“How to turn the calls into reality would require the Chinese basketball association to make concrete efforts to attract talent and Lin to [show] determination and seize the opportunity,” Xinhua said.
However, Lin’s family in Taiwan begs to differ.
“He is Taiwanese, a true Taiwanese and some remarks [that he is not] are wrong,” Lin’s paternal grandmother Lin Chu A-muen told reporters in Taiwan.
His uncle, Lin Heng-cheng (林恆正), said: “We are very happy and very proud of him. He is Taiwanese and his grandmother and many relatives live in Taiwan. These are indisputable facts.”
“Since Lin’s grandma and uncle all stress that their whole family, including him, are Taiwanese, isn’t anyone who deliberately says he is not sick?” a message on the -Chinese-language United Daily News online forum said.
The Lin phenomenon taps into a deeper yearning among Taiwanese.
Taiwan has anxiously looked to talent with Taiwanese roots in the fields of sports, entertainment and arts to help boost its international profile. Oscar-winning film director Ang Lee (李安) and fashion designer Jason Wu (吳季剛), both born in Taiwan and based in the US, are also dubbed the “glory of Taiwan” for their professional achievements.
“The ‘Linsanity’ in Taiwan reflects Taiwan’s insecurity and lack of confidence due to its long-time isolation in the international community,” Chinese Culture University political analyst George Tsai (蔡瑋) said.
“Taiwan needs a hero and an icon and wants to think of Lin as one of us, to share in his pride and fame, but he is more American than Taiwanese and there is no need to label him,” Tsai said.
The mass-circulation Apple Daily newspaper said the public had every right to be proud of Lin’s Taiwanese ancestry and while it was “annoying” that China claimed him as its own, Chinese were also right to admire him.
However, it stressed: “We should not force him to identify himself as Taiwanese or Chinese, as his nationality is American and he is an American.”
And not everyone in China itself agrees with the attempts to adopt Lin as Chinese.
“I think Lin is an American and has nothing to do with China. It’s funny and ironic to claim that he is winning glory for China,” another message on Sina Weibo said.