Essay

Living MoreFree

China’s streetball hero plays his way – Eduardo Baptista

On a mid-September afternoon, Wu You (吴悠) a.k.a. MoreFree, one of China’s most notorious basketball icons, was getting beaten badly. Despite the giant posters foregrounding the court and cameras filming Wu’s every move, this was only an informal exhibition game; Wu’s teammates included his childhood friends and their relatives, many of whom hadn’t exercised in months, let alone play a competitive game. As his team, down 20 points against a well-drilled team from the PLA National Defense University, called yet another timeout,Wu sat down on the bench, staring into space as everyone else chattered over tactics. Next to him, two of his septuagenarian teammates lit cigarettes, leaning back languidly and taking long drags. His team short on manpower, Wu tried to put them on his back for the final quarter, but to no avail – they lose by 30.

In China, the name “Wu You” has long been synonymous with “streetball,” or jieqiu (街球). The naughty younger brother of association basketball, streetball originated in the outdoor courts of America’s inner cities. The objective is not so much to outscore your opponent but to out-humiliate him, whether “breaking their ankles,” where a change of direction sends a defender flying to the ground, or inflicting a brutal “posterizer,” a dunk that rams the defender’s body backwards. At NBA games, spectators for the most part cheer and clap for their teams; streetball crowds are much less civilized, screaming in excitement whenever a player is embarrassed, even running onto the court.

Borderlands

Caught Between Two Countries

Northeastern China’s ethnic Korean minority – Eduardo Baptista

“South Koreans treat us like foreigners … worse, they treat us like dogs!” shouted Li Zhangyan, a retired 67-year old chaoxianzu, as ethnic Koreans are called in Chinese. He and  his friends had drunk a few too many bottles of soybean wine, making them welcoming to my reporter’s presence, but also easily riled up.

Li has worked in total for over a decade in different cities around South Korea, taking advantage of the higher salaries compared to his home in Yanbian, China’s ethnic Korean prefecture.

“There isn’t one of us,” he pointed at himself and his two friends, also retired, “who hasn’t bought a couple of houses here in Yanbian. We made all this money but South Koreans still look down on us!”