Hoop Dreams without Borders: Playing and Imagining Basketball in China
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Dept. of Anthropology, Davidson College
(paper given at the 2003 AAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC)
In a youth survey from the early 1990s that asked the question “who is your hero?” Michael Jordan ranked second only to Zhou Enlai. While soccer may be the most popular sport in China, basketball has captured the global imaginings of postsocialist Chinese youth popular culture. Chinese basketball courts are full of young adult males who want to be like Mike, but also like Chinese basketball stars in the NBA such as the Houston Rocket’s Yao Ming or the Dallas Maverick’s Wang Zhizhi. In this exploration of basketball in China, I will argue how basketball serves as an ideal lens from which to understand globalization and popular culture in China. Based on fieldwork conducted in a rural northern Guangdong university and in urban Shanghai, I will illustrate how basketball lies at the intersection of transnational cultural flows, an increased commodification of everyday social life, and the aspirations of a postsocialist Chinese nationalism. Although basketball in China is not unique in embodying such disjunctive cultural processes, the popularity of the game and related products illustrates how these cultural processes become localized and coherent for the young men who consume and create their versions of Chinese modernity. Examining Chinese hoop dreams is particularly relevant, I will argue, in understanding the impact of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This paper will also explore the connections between Chinese basketball and the internationalization of professional sports in the United States, and how such connections are shaping visions of Chinese identity in a global future.