Jim Yardley, a 1986 UNC graduate, is The New York Times bureau chief for New Delhi and has written a book about the culture clash between a Chinese basketball team and its American coach.
Yardley, a former Beijing bureau chief, spoke at the Kenan-Flagler Business School Wednesday about “Brave Dragons” and the ascent of India and China as global powers._
He sat down with The Daily Tar Heel to talk about his time overseas and the changing landscape of journalism, as well as basketball and New York Knicks phenom Jeremy Lin.
Daily Tar Heel: What journalism work took you abroad?
Jim Yardley: I’ve been a journalist for 20-something years, and I worked for the Times for the last 14 … I kind of just envisioned that I’d stay in the U.S. And then, unexpectedly, the China job came open.
It was a really great experience that totally changed my life.
DTH: What do college students need to know about the global marketplace in all professions?
JY: The main thing to recognize is that there is a global marketplace, a global competition. Whatever you’re doing, think of … doing it outside the context of doing it in your state, or city or country.
If you’re interested in doing something internationally, I’d highly recommend learning the language of the country that you’re interested in because I wish I had.
DTH: What changes have you observed in college media? What advice would you give students in UNC’s journalism school today?
JY: Now, the landscape of media has completely changed, largely due to the web and new jobs and web-only ventures. For a new generation of journalists, it’s a little scary, and I think the upside for you guys being right out of the chute is that if you go into journalism, you’re brand new, and you’re coming into your own at the time that the field is redefining itself.
But I don’t think anyone should discount the traditional skills of writing and reporting. At the end of the day, despite all the various new technological changes, people still crave credible information. That’s what it’s about. The ability to report and write is as valuable today as it was when I was your age.
DTH: What should UNC be doing to accommodate China and India’s ascent in business and politics?
JY: UNC is just like any other major university right now trying to get involved in India and China for a variety of reasons.
UNC’s primary mission is to serve the state of North Carolina, so it is less involved than, say, private institutions such as Harvard doing big things overseas. But I think UNC is definitely doing things.
The public health school and the business school have relationships, they’re trying to reach out.
DTH: What motivated you to start writing this book about basketball? What got you interested in the cultural relationship between China and the U.S.?
JY: I was in China for six years, and I reported about everything. And I knew I wanted to write a book, and I knew I wanted to write it about the U.S.-China relationship, because as an American living in China I always felt that that was an interesting thing.
But I didn’t want to do it in a big policy way. I wanted the policy in the book, but I wanted it to be delivered in a more human, down-to-earth way. I grew up in North Carolina, and they do play basketball here … Many people initially that I talked to about it thought it was an unusual, odd prism to look at society, and I thought it was great. I thought it would allow people to learn about China and America in ways that didn’t feel like homework, that felt more like a story.
DTH: What do you make of Jeremy Lin’s publicity and career surge?
JY: He’s interesting because he’s not Chinese, he’s a Taiwanese-American born in the Bay Area, so he’s as American as I am. What I think is fascinating about him is that obviously, from what I’ve read, the Asian-Americans take a great amount of pride in him. Everyone has probably felt some stereotyping here … So here’s this guy that’s shattered, so far, the stereotypes.
But what is interesting about the book is that that same stereotyping exists in China, which is to say that Chinese coaches think Chinese players are less physically gifted, and they basically will say so, and their answer is drilling. Relentless drilling. And so here’s this kid… I mean, Yao Ming was 7’6”, so when he went over, his success was partly just because he is 7’6”. Jeremy Lin is 6’3”, so he’s not that big a kid, and yet he grew up in a different basketball environment in the States, even though he’s just as Asian as if he had grown up in Beijing or Shanghai. So with Jeremy Lin, his impact goes way beyond the NBA in the United States. I think he’ll have a big impact in Asia.
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