the lectern banner

By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

"Lin-sanity" reveals Chinese culture

The Jeremy Lin phenomenon has occasioned lots of discussion in the U.S. of everything from Harvard and basketball to stereotypes and racism about Asian-Americans. It has also gotten some fascinating reactions in China that say something about traditional Chinese culture and about the state of Chinese politics today.
 
As a fascinating report on CNN noted, Lin-sanity has definitely hit China. Its arrival there should serve as a reminder of what the CNN report referred to as a “wide and inclusive sense of national identity” in Chinese culture. When an athlete whose ancestors came from Italy or Sweden makes it big in a U.S. sport that is followed abroad, it does get some minor special play in those countries, perhaps including local media interviews with relatives of the star still back in the country of origin. But, deep down, most Chinese actually think that the descendents of Chinese immigrants in the U.S. are really Chinese, not American – a view tied in with the long-time (though now fading) strong Chinese identification of “overseas Chinese” in Asia with their homeland, which often included not even taking citizenship where they lived. 

As I often point out to Chinese audiences, while we in the U.S. refer to “Chinese-Americans,” Chinese call these people “American-born Chinese.” The former implies Americans whose background is Chinese, the latter Chinese who happened to have been born in the U.S. It reflects the cultural difference between how we see immigration in the U.S. and how Chinese see people of Chinese origin abroad.
 
But there is also something Lin-sanity reveals about the current, precarious state of Chinese politics, with its hard-to-understand mixture of censorship and repression with pluralism and freedom. As a perceptive article in the Financial Times noted, the official Chinese media have been basically quiet about Lin – he is an open Christian, and Taiwanese flags have been waved during his games in the U.S.  However, the official media no longer fully control the political debate by any means, thanks not the least to what is quickly becoming a crucial new feature of Chinese politics, the rise of microblogging, known in Chinese as weibo (“bo” is the sound-alike word for “blog,” while “wei” means micro). Twitter is blocked in China, but this is the domestic equivalent. 

Lin has a million weibo followers in China, and they are writing and posting videos about him, though the official media is largely silent. On a politically more serious note, there has been virtually nothing in the official media surrounding the fate of Bo Xilai, a top party leader who may or may not be in eclipse, following a bizarre story involving an effort by a top lieutenant to seek political asylum at a U.S. consulate. This story, however, has been all over weibo. 

As frequently occurs with sensitive stories, there has been an attempt to block the news – the name Bo Xilai gets no hits on weibo. However, as also frequently occurs, Chinese are making use of homonyms, which abound in Chinese, and word plays to get around the blocking – in this case they are playing on that Bo’s name sounds like the Chinese word for “thin” and calling him (in Chinese) “not thick” on weibo, which apparently is not blocked – though the question remains how, if I know about this workaround, why the government doesn’t block it as well. 

The era of Jeremy Lin is also an interesting era of transition in today’s China.

Posted on Feb 22, 2012 at 12:09 PM


The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group