Rockets C Yao Ming, whose Chinese national team lost to the Dirkster’s German side the other day, has spoken out against the consumption and preperation of shark fin soup, a stance that some of his countrymen aren’t so quick to adopt, writes the New York Times’ David Barboza.

Emperors loved shark fin soup because it was rare, tasty and difficult to prepare. The soup is served at wedding banquets by families eager to show appreciation to their guests. And Hong Kong and Beijing government officials ” not to mention thousands of businessmen hoping to close the next big deal ” swear they absolutely have to treat their guests to shark fin soup as a show of respect and honor.

œThis is the very basic dish for business dinners in Hong Kong, said Tan Rongde, 56, a banker. œIf you don™t order that, you will lose face.

œPutting our ecosystem in great peril is certainly not a part of Chinese culture that I know, Mr. Yao said in an e-mail message Friday afternoon, from Guangzhou, where he was preparing for a game. œHow do you maintain this so-called tradition when one day there is no shark to be finned?

Mr. Yao and two other celebrities ” the Olympian Li Ning and the pop star Liu Huan ” have joined WildAid, which insists that sharks are endangered because of China™s ravenous appetite for skinning off the fins and boiling them for days in a special broth (critics say they™re sometimes finned alive and then thrown back in the sea).

But how is Mr. Yao™s move playing at home, in a country that says a banquet is not a banquet without shark fin soup?

He double-dribbled, suggests Zhu Dongqing, 46, a construction company manager, as he sat along fashionable Nanjing Road in Shanghai. Mr. Zhu said Chinese wouldn™t readily give up the soup, which sells for up to $100 a bowl in Hong Kong.

œChinese people, we just eat shark™s fin, he said. œIt™s part of our culture. Yao Ming, it™s a good idea. It™s good to protect the environment. But if my children want to go out and eat shark™s fin because they think it tastes good, I™ll still take them.

Others said Mr. Yao, who plays for the Houston Rockets, was doing the right thing, but they™d still love to try one of the world™s most expensive soups.

œIf one day I could eat shark™s fin, of course I™d eat it, said Chen Yanran, 18, a Shanghai music student, who may not know that the actual shark fin part of the soup has no taste at all, it™s just like rubber. œIt™s a delicacy, and expensive, something the average Chinese can™t eat.