As David Yang writes in Foreign Policy, the spectacular rise of Jeremy Lin -- the New York Knicks' Taiwanese-American, Harvard-grad point guard -- is sweeping mainland China. But while only a handful of Chinese athletes have made an impression on U.S. shores, there's an impressive roster of homegrown sports stars that are big in Beijing -- and a few surprising American athletes with a big following, too.
Above, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao perform during the 2010 Winter Olympics figure skating exhibition gala at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, Canada. After settling for bronze in the Salt Lake City and Torino Olympics, China's most celebrated figure skaters finally brought home their country's first-ever figure skating gold at the 2010 games.
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Diver Guo Jingjing waves from the podium at the awards ceremony following her victory in the women's 3 meter synchronized springboard competition at the 2009 East Asian Games in Hong Kong. Guo Jingjing recently called it quits after a stellar career that included four Olympic gold medals and multiple world championship titles.
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Ma Long of China winds up a shot during the Men's singles semifinal match of the ITTF Pro Tour Table Tennis Grand Finals on Nov. 27, 2011, in London, England. Ma is the world's top-ranked table tennis player and shares the world top 10 with five of his countrymen.
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China's Lin Dan returns the shuttlecock against his compatriot, Chen Long, during their men's singles final match of the BWF Badminton World Superseries Finals in Liuzhou city on Dec. 18, 2011. "Super Dan" as he is known to his fans, is the only player to ever win all nine major badminton titles and is considered by many to be the greatest to ever play the sport.
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Li Na hits a running forehand during her women's singles match on the fifth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan. 20, 2012. She is ranked No. 9 in the world and is the only player from an Asian country ever to win a Grand Slam singles championship, the 2011 French Open.
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Liu Xiang draps himself in the Chinese flag after competing in the men's 110 meter hurdles final at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, on August 29, 2011. At the time of the Beijing Olympics, Liu was widely described as the most famous athlete in China. His early departure from the games due to a leg injury provoked widespread hysteria and tears from his fans on the Chinese Internet.
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Yao Ming takes a breather during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 26, 2010, in Los Angeles, California. Yao wasn't the first Chinese player in the NBA, but he was the first to have a major impact on the game -- and became a global superstar in the process. The 7 foot, 6 inch, Yao was the top overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft after five outstanding years with the Shanghai Sharks. He went on to enjoy a stellar NBA career that included 8 All-Star Game appearances. He retired in 2011 at the age of 30 due to recurring injuries.
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Yi Jianlian, then of the New Jersey Nets, lines up a foul shot against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 13, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The most prominent current Chinese star in the NBA hasn't made a huge impact on the league, where's he's been a bit of a journeyman. He's played for the Bucks, Nets, Wizards, and Mavericks over the last five years, but he's still beloved at home. The onetime Guangdong Southern Tigers star trails only Yao Ming and Liu Xiang in popularity -- and hawks everything from Nike to Coca-Cola back home in China.
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With 300 million basketball players, not to mention casual fans, in China, the NBA sees the Middle Kingdom as a gold mine, and has signed dozens of TV deals throughout the country. Even during the Yao Ming era, Kobe Bryant -- a polarizing figure back home in the United States -- has been by far China's most beloved player. There's even a TV reality show called Kobe Mentu or "Kobe's Disciples," where young players compete for the right to travel to the United States and learn from the master. Above, Bryant hits a lay-up over the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 6, 2012, in Los Angeles, California.
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Tracy McGrady of the Detroit Pistons looks on during a game against the Miami Heat on Jan. 28, 2011, in Miami, Florida. Though a strong player in his own right, McGrady's popularity in China benefited from being Yao's most talented Houston Rockets teammate. T-Mac, as McGrady is known to fans, was consistently voted into the NBA All-Star Game -- even in 2010 when he was injured and hadn't played all season -- by millions of loyal Chinese Rockets fans. For a time, he had the top-selling jersey in China, though he's since been overtaken by Bryant. Currently playing for the Atlanta Hawks, McGrady denied media reports last year that he was close to signing a deal with the Foshan Dralions of the Chinese league.
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Kenyon Martin the Denver Nuggets, rests during a break in the action against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 28, 2011, in Denver, Colorado. This year's NBA protracted contract wrangling and lockout was a boon to international leagues, with top-ranked players heading to Europe, Turkey, and China during the negotiations. Martin, a former Net and Nugget, signed up with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers. He would later come to regret the decision when play started in the NBA again and the Tigers, fighting for a playoff spot, refused to let him out of his contract. Martin was eventually cleared to return to the NBA and has dince signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
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Stephon Marbury, then of Boston Celtics, drives to the hoop during a game on March 4, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. A volatile and often controversial player during his 13 years in the NBA, Marbury reinvented himself in China as a starter for the Dralions, and then the Beijing Ducks. Since moving to China in 2010, Marbury has boosted the sales of his Starbury brand of discount athletic equipment and has begun writing a regular column in China Daily. “I have no complaints. I’m blessed; life is good,” Marbury says of his second career.
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