From Evangelism to Entertainment: The YMCA, the NBA,
and the Evolution of Chinese Basketball

By Judy Polumbaum

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 14, no. 1, pp.178-230

This article examines the history and development of basketball in China, from its arrival in the late 19th century via outposts of the Young Men’s Christian Association to its growth in the late 20th and current configurations in the shadow of the National Basketball Association. Despite Chinese athletic preeminence in table tennis, enthusiasm for soccer, and strengths in many other sports, basketball is arguably becoming tantamount to a “national sport” in China. Basketball has attained symbolic importance in Republican, revolutionary, Communist and reform settings; and in the current period, it is a commodious vehicle for the commercialization of sports and the introduction of Western commercial culture. Basketball provides rich and vivid material for studying the interactions of national and global cultures, and the Chinese example also bolsters the hegemony of male sports across space and time. Chinese reception, adaptation, and, increasingly, reciprocation of the game-one of numerous sports of Western origin and presumed prevalence in which modern Chinese athletes have made superlative strides-may be seen as a process of claiming a “foreign” sport as “Chinese,” and beyond that, acknowledging the sport as global and asserting Chinese prowess within it, while also subscribing to its global idolatry.