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The Great Leap Plot Summary

By Kamilah Bush, PCS Literary Manager

Please note, this summary contains spoilers.

In 1971, during the height of China’s Cultural Revolution — a time when the Communist Party of China, led by Chairman Mao Zedong, hoped to establish China as an anti-capitalist world power — American basketball coach Saul Slezac visited China to coach a Chinese basketball team. When he left, his translator, Wen Chang, was made the team’s new permanent coach. 

Eighteen years later, in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Chinese American phenom point guard Manford Lum leaves his mother’s funeral to try out for the team Saul is taking back to China for a “friendship game” between him and his old friend Wen Chang. Though Manford is short, too young, and only has a month to train with the team, Saul allows him to join them on the trip. Saul is quoted as saying that no Chinese team will ever beat an American team, and Wen Chang wants the opportunity to prove him wrong. 

The team arrives in China in June 1989, during a time students in Beijing and around the country were protesting the Communist Party. These protests were widespread but the heart of it beat in Tiananmen Square. Manford finds himself swept up in the protests. When Party officials see a picture of him with protestors, he is banned from playing in the exhibition. Manford finds his way to Wen Chang’s apartment to plead with him, only to learn about a deeper connection between them. Wen Chang is actually Manford’s father, and his mother fled China while she was pregnant with him to keep him safe.

On the day of the game, China’s team is solidly beating the American team but in the final moments, Manford comes into the game despite being banned and changes the tide. The Party leaders are unhappy with the outcome of the game and knowing that he may be punished for the loss, Wen Chang sends a letter to Manford acknowledging his relationship with him and his mother before joining the protests in Tiananmen Square.

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