Linsanity as a Diplomatic Asset

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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:

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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