Linsanity as a Diplomatic Asset

Among the one-million-plus microblog posts about Jeremy Lin that have appeared in China in recent days is this one: "Your physical agility has shown me the glory and omnipotence of God."

My own religious orientation doesn't incline me to think of Lin in those terms, but I must say that last night's New York Knicks game didn't exactly dispel the belief that he's heaven sent. His clutch last-minute three-point-play tied the game, and his clutch last-second shot won it.

But I digress. Let's get back to those Chinese microblog posts. We learn from a story by Keith Bradsher in this morning's New York Times that the Linsanity tsunami has now swept across China. ("His jerseys have sold out, even including the counterfeit ones," says a store clerk in Zhejiang.)

With China's next prime minister, Vice President Xi Jinping, visiting America, my thoughts naturally turned to the diplomatic possibilities: Could Lin play a positive role in US-Chinese relations? I mean, presumably it would be a good thing for American sports fans and Chinese sports fans to adore the same person, especially if that person's life story spans East and West?

Turns out there are some complications:

(1) Lin's parents are from Taiwan, not mainland China, so there could be rival claims for homeland status. Bradsher writes, "Cai Qi, the organization chief for the Communist Party in Zhejiang, posted a message on his Twitter-like microblog over the weekend claiming that Lin's ancestral home is Jiaxing, a city on the northeastern outskirts of Hangzhou where Lin's maternal grandmother grew up."

(2) There's also the God issue. China's government of course views Christianity warily, and Lin is a pretty devout Christian. So it could be that, as the enthusiasm of Chinese Christians for Lin grows, the enthusiasm of Cai Qi and others in the Communist Party will wane. (But I don't understand Chinese politics well enough to say, or to plot out the implications of that.)

In any event, having heard a few interviews with Lin, my guess is that he'll handle delicate questions gracefully, and that he won't let international celebrity distract him from his on-court mission. And that's all that's really necessary; it's not like he has to become a roving ambassador of good will in order to play a constructive role in international relations.

Of course, this whole conjecture about Lin's diplomatic value presupposes that he's the real deal--that he'll be star for some time to come. My own guess (not that you asked) after watching last night's game is that he will indeed hang on to star status so long as he gets better at hanging on to the ball in heavy traffic. So I'm cautiously optimistic that Jeremy Lin could wind up, so to speak, doing God's work. 

Meanwhile, let's savor last night's game-winning shot:

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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