By Luisetta Mudie
NBA’s newest basketball star Jeremy Lin’s sudden burst of popularity in China appears to be fading rapidly due to his Taiwanese roots, judging from thousands of posts on the mainland’s popular Twitter-like microblog services.
Many fans in China have vowed to disregard Lin’s career entirely following remarks from his grandmother claiming that the American-born son of Taiwanese immigrants is “a true Taiwanese.”
Following a blistering run of triumphs on the basketball court this month, the New York Knicks player has inspired a massive following among sports fans in the U.S. and his parents’ homeland, where he has been hailed as “the glory of Taiwan.”
His meteoric rise has even spawned a series of Lin-based plays on words, including Linsanity, a catchphrase he moved to take control of in an apparent bid to use it for Lin-related merchandise.
Initially, mainland Chinese fans also seemed keen to hail him as one of their own, with some even suggesting Lin might represent China in the Olympics. Even China’s official news agency Xinhua appeared to take the idea seriously, commenting that Lin would have to renounce his U.S. citizenship in order to play for China.
Now, the love affair may be over, as news footage of Lin’s Taipei-based grandmother Lin Chu A-muen circulated widely this week on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, garnering insults and a slew of caustic and dismissive comments.
“He is a 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.
Many microbloggers took up the refrain “Who is Jeremy Lin?” apparently signaling the end of their interest in the star, who had been touted as a natural successor to Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming following the latter’s retirement from the NBA last year.
Other comments were less restrained. “I really hate treasonous bastards like this,” wrote user @huangyingbinweibodaren.
User @chenyilun commented: “Taiwan has always been part of China; your ancestors moved over there from the mainland.”
“Since Lin’s family said [China was] bathing in the limelight, there is only one Chinese player in the NBA for me, and that is [Dallas Mavericks player] King Yi.”
“The old lady is confused!” wrote user @zishan_chen, while @S-ruihua added: “Is there such a person as Jeremy Lin? How come I’ve never heard of him?”
Lin was born and raised in the United States, and his maternal grandmother comes from the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, but his parents spent their formative years in Taiwan, which has prompted Taiwan to claim his as their native son.
He is also Christian and there were some early signs that he may also be catching the attention of Christians in China, who continue to face varying levels of persecution, the New York Times reported.
Lin’s disputed origins have played right into mainland Chinese nationalist sentiment and a long-running historical row which lies at the center of delicate relations across the 100-mile (160-kilometer) wide Taiwan Strait.
Beijing still insists that the island, held by the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) since 1945, forms part of the People’s Republic of China.
Taiwan, which currently functions as a full parliamentary democracy, has never been under communist control, and has been governed separately from the mainland since the KMT fled there in 1949 after a losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.
Paparazzi have been camped outside the home of Lin’s paternal grandmother since the Knicks’ point-guard’s meteoric rise to fame earlier this year, prompting calls from the player to give his family some privacy.