More on Han Han and post 80s isolationism

Written by Julen Madariaga on December 7th, 2009

Read this rant against Han Han on the China Daily. I have to say I didn’t like the tone, it reads like it’s written by an envious loser. But it is the intelligent kind of loser, and he hits the nail on the head several times.

He is absolutely right in the main thesis of the article, as copied below from the lede. And he is also right to say that Han Han messed it up in the interview with Time, and his reaction to that in the Youth Weekend was an embarrassing tantrum that didn’t fix the situation at all.


Frankly speaking, I was not surprised by the article, Han Han has made many enemies in China over the years, and he should expect them to come at him with the axe the minute he has a faux pas. But he continues to be as arrogant as usual. He knows that inside China, with his post 80s public, he is still invulnerable. Which is probably why Mr. Zhou writes this in English in a paper for foreigners, where he is safe from the Han Han fans.

But back to the point that interests us: the image of Chinese writers in the West. We have already criticized the part of Western opinion in this affair, but I think there is a lot to be said about Han Han as well. He acts like he couldn’t care less how the Media sees him. If he was a teenage punk I wouldn’t be surprised, but he is already pushing thirty and judging by his writing, he is not “without a cause”. On the contrary, he has a clear notion of justice and he uses his pen to hit where it hurts in the powers that be.

So WHY doesn’t he give a damn? Any foreign writer, no matter how successful at home, knows that an interview on Time is pure gold to project an image outside the country. It is many $$$ that Han Han could make outside China, many race cars he could pay for, way more than in the Chinese market where he is selling books at 20RMB, and even then losing business to pirates. No, I can’t believe he doesn’t give a damn. He does, and at this moment he is still regretting the day he met Time.

And that’s where I wanted to get. It’s hard to believe that Han Han isn’t smart enough to give the Time journalists the meat they are hungry for. He could have prepared a couple of slogans, some Polar bears and Justice in the World, without necessarily going into details. But he is suffering from the same problem as most Chinese at all levels, from Hu JinTao to the last of the provincial spokesmen: they do not understand how to use Western media. They consistently lose at this game, they don’t even want to learn it, and then they turn into a matter of national pride what was just a matter of technique.

It has to be a consequence of living so long with Xinhua and the People’s Daily, the Chinese were not bad at it before.

Or do you have another explanation?

UPDATE:  See comments below for the reaction on Hecaitou blog (h/t FOARP)

UPDATE2: I just find that the whole thing was translated yesterday by ESWN. There is also some more material, including an interview in 1510, check it out.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Dec

    “they do not understand how to use Western media. They consistently lose at this game, they don’t even want to learn it, and then they turn into a matter of national pride what was just a matter of technique.”

    Agree with you. I’m a long time fan of his, but I don’t wanna deify him. When Han Han fought back against the “Western media”, it almost felt like someone from speaking.

    I don’t agree with Lydia Liu’s comment, and it was really unfair to Han Han. But I wonder if HH was more upset about TIME portraying him as “epicene”, as it was what HH used to joke about his competitor, Guo Jingming (which remains us that it’s always a cheap shot, and it could come back to haunt u.)

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Dec

    Urrgghh . . . . the Zhou piece is passive-aggressive garbage of the worst kind. It just seems like if he repeats the phrase `western media` enough times he thinks he can score points, when all he does is come off as a more than just slightly creepy ex-fanboi. Seriously - this is the kind of rubbish they`re printing in the China Daily nowadays? Take me back to the good old days of agitprop please, when at least the paper only lied to you rather than making you feel like you needed a bath. The homophobia in the piece is especially repulsive - and Zhou is editor in chief?

    Nimrod did a translation of Hecaitou`s reply to the Zhou piece which you can find in the comments under the editorial, here`s the original:

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Dec

    FOARP thanks for the link, I had missed that one, I guess it is Nimrod from FM. For the ones who dont speak English, just go to the China Daily link in the post and see the comments.

    I like the way Hecaitou compares this to the powerful cadres tricks: “You know, everybody is against you. I did this because I am your only friend”. And he is very right to say that RZhou is an envious nobody.

    But otherwise he misses the point, because RZ is writing in English, for foreign readers. And sad as it is, for English language observers, it is RZhou 1 - post80s 0. Hecaitou has the same tendency as HanHan and most of the others to completely dismiss the foreign opinion and fall back into their cosy Chinese fanbase.

    I am not saying they should start writing in English, they are proud Chinese writers and they are right to use their language. But all I am sayinig is that they should pay more attention to what goes on out of the Chinese language internet, because in the long term it will be more important for their generation (and perhaps for the whole future of internet in China) than the beefs with little people like Zhou.

    As we noted last time during the racism debate: if even intelligent bloggers like Hecaitou or HanHan don’t manage to connect with the World, then what hope is there for the post 80s internet?

    UPDATE> I am not sure how old is HCT, judging by the pictures he looks well past post 80s age … make that a post 70s.

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:

    ULN, that might be true if:

    1) CD was an opinion-leader of even the most minor standing in the English-language speaking world. It isn`t.

    2) Raymond Zhou had any kind of following whatsoever. He doesn`t.

    3) This piece wasn`t so obviously the poisonous ventings of a nobody as to turn the reader against the writer without even knowing the facts of the case. Unfortunately for Zhou, I`ve read Youtube comments which were more likely to win me over than this rubbish.

    It is unfortunate that the editorial pages of English language media in places like China and Taiwan, being of national stature but often of university news-letter quality, serve as platforms for the inane opinions of such men, losers with Napoleon complexes.

    In the end, who will be Han Han`s readers? Mostly Chinese, although some may read in translation. I am reminded of the careers of Eduard Limonov and Michel Houellebecq, both non-English writers with reputations as wild-boys and with long-running beefs with big-name authors in their home countries. It is hard to see how greater English-language prescence might have helped them though. Howver, writing translations of what they write might help, but such translations are likely to bring the censor`s running.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Yes, I see your 1) 2) and 3) And yet, look here the whole English chinosphere is commenting at this, and many China watchers in the West who can’t speak Chinese read the CD. I think CD is more influential than you imagine within its own little sphere. Fallows for example quotes the CD many times (even if most of the times it is to laugh at it!)

    Re Hoellebecq: I used to read a lot of him during my French years, he had cool poems and a couple of controversial novels, particularily the “particules”. But I wouldnt compare him so closely to HanHan.

    Hoellebecq DID get a lot from his success outside France. Within the country, national PC and the boycott of the establishment was really an issue (in Paris my gf at the time practically forbid me to buy his books after he published the novel in SE Asia) but the way he got over all that is by outselling the other French authors in Spain, England and other countries. That gives money and prestige to weather all the storms.

    So the guy was controversial sure, but he was clever to play all that to his own advantage and when it comes to international image he was much more intelligent than HH. Who wouldn’t want to read the man who shocked French society? And who doesn’t want to read the enfant terrible of China? There is clearly a potential market there for Chinese who can walk the thin line… although I agree there is more risk involved in CPC’s China than in France.

    Perhaps HH just doesnt want to take that risk after all, and I cannot blame him for that. But I do blame him for acting like a spoilt kid or as if the the whole world is his band of post80s fans. What is he going to do when all those guys grow up and they get tired of him?

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:

    Damn, no Platforme? I read the whole thing cover to cover my first year in Taiwan straight out of university, and bought the book based pretty much on the cover - I had never even heard of Hoellebecq before. It didn’t advocate prostitution in anyway that my friends weren’t, nor criticise Islam in anyway that I hadn’t heard from half-a-dozen other people. This doesn’t make it right, but it did mean that I found it a hell of a lot less controversial than other people seem to have. It was only later when I read interviews with him that I realised that the man might, as well as being a good author, also be an arrogant twat. By then my admiration for him was pretty much firm set though . .

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Ah yeah, that was the book: “Platform”. I never got around to reading it in the end. I am glad to hear it didnt corrupt your soul or push you to a life of sin and depravity. LOL.

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:

    “I am glad to hear it didnt corrupt your soul or push you to a life of sin and depravity.”

    . . . . well, I did move to mainland China shortly after finishing it, so don’t be so sure!

  4. Dec

    …and he got you too

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Dec

    Oh come on guys, where is your sense of humor? I thought the China Daily satire was hilarious, I guess they are allowed to have some fun in China Daily too. I bet if it’s on The Onion then some of you might get it. Or is it because it was making fun of the Western media that made some of you felt hurt? Raymond Zhou needled all the right spots, didn’t he? :-) As I see it, Zhou never intended to trash Han Han. After all, it was Han Han himself who said that he was set up by the Western media.

    Hecaitou was pissed off only because Raymond Zhou called him a Han Han wannabe and made fun of his diatribe against Obama. I doubt Hecaitou read the English original, he wrote the piece based on the shitty Chinese translation (done by a CD intern?) .

    If you read the TIME article, the disappointment towards Han Han seems pretty obvious to me. They thought they found a post-80′s Ai Weiwei and discovered that he wasn’t.

    Some people in the West just don’t understand, Han Han and Ai Weiwei came from different places. To Ai Weiwei, it’s personal, his family was ruined by the political movements, he holds grudges against the party. Han Han, on the other hand, is the beneficiary of the current system, he is successful and has everything, he is only bitching about the system is not free enough. So don’t expect he’ll become a hero of the West like Ai Weiwei.

    “But he is suffering from the same problem as most Chinese at all levels, from Hu JinTao to the last of the provincial spokesmen: they do not understand how to use Western media.”

    That’s funny. Why would the Western media allow themselves to be used by the Chinese government? Their targeted audience is in the West. What the Western audience want to see is “good vs. evil,” “democracy good, dictatorship bad” sells papers.

    I heard Raymond Zhou write movie reviews too, so allow me to use movie as an analogy.

    Super heroes is a very popular subject in movies these days. But nobody wants to watch a super hero movie without bad guys in it, right? The Chinese government is of course the obvious choice.

    Hero vs. Evil Monster (i.e. Ai Weiwei vs. the CCP) makes a great movie script. “Setbacks” and “sufferings” of the hero only makes the script more exciting, now you know why they keep Ai Weiwei in the headlines? But people get tired of watching the same character after a while. So now we are looking for a new leading man. What will make him more exciting is if he is from the post-80′s generation, preferably a handsome rebellious bad boy. And that’s where Han Han comes in. Unfortunately I don’t think he passed the screening, the producer thinks he is not “rebellious” enough, too bad.

    Old Monk vs. Satan is also a great script, but that’s entirely a different movie. After 50 some years, people are still not tired of it, I think the religious element might have something to do with it?

    The Western media will never change no matter how you try to please them. Until they discover how huge the Chinese market is, that is. The producer of 2010 can be a great inspiration for them.

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:

    This comment is so mealy-mouthed and contrived it could have been written by Zhou himself.

    [Reply to this comment]

    racer Reply:

    FOARP, you are funny.

    I was expecting “Raymond Zhou wannabe,” but “mealy-mouthed” and “contrived ?” Ouch! That hurts. :-)

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Dec

    @racer - But I did find the article funny. And I do think Han Han can and should take some criticism, he behaves too often like an arrogant twat, he was not clever enought to deal with Time, and what is much worse (in my eyes at least): he doesnt value literature.

    Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t care a sht about it actually, his last book “tadeguo” was a joke, and it really felt like he tried to get done with it as soon as possible to go back to get money for a new race car.

    But nevertheless, still I think that:

    1) The tone of R. Zhou is too much, and he is playing the snmartass as soon as he sees a vulnerable point in HanHan, that is low, especially as he writes in a newspaper for foreigners.

    2) I do think that Western audience -and the Western Media as well- are manipulable. Precisely because of what you say:

    the Western audience want to see is “good vs. evil,” “democracy good, dictatorship bad”

    It is always possible to market oneself as good in this picture. I am not saying it is easy, but at least one should try. Please read again the interview in Time, HanHan responses were a joke!

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Dec

    Hecaitou is the worst passive-agressive annoying blogger on the whole internet. I can´t stand the guy. But that´s just me.

    Han Han doesn´t want to become a dissident, he has a good following, has enough money, gets to say what he wants on his blog. Why would be anti-system? He’s having fun as it is. Why risk antagonizing the party and get exiled or worse?

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. Dec

    @spandrell -

    About Han Han, I am not sure he has enough money (racing is an expensive hobby when you are not F. Alonso). Yeah, he probably doesn’t want to take too many risks, but I am sure he could project a better image of himself for Time magazine without entering risky territory. Just give them some polar bears and some general notions of World justice would have been enough. Journalists are human, and it is not so difficult to talk them into something when you got HH’s charm.

    Han Han is a talented guy, but he is really closed on his generation of exclusively Chinese fans, and he doesn’t seem to understand that the World is much more than that. As you say, it is his right to do that if he is confortable, sure. But this will not make him a great writer, IMO.

    [Reply to this comment]

    spandrell Reply:

    ” But this will not make him a great writer, IMO. ”
    He´s not a great writer anyway, his books are pop fiction. Han Han has a following because he´s cool (extremely cool), not because of being a respected intellectual. You´ve seen the guy talk on TV? A friend of mine (a normal provincial guy who doesn´t speak a word of english) told me he speaks like a peasant.

    The guy blogs against corruption, which is what most people care about. Why should he sell a dissident image to a Western magazine?
    I believe he really doesn´t care, the last thing he wants is to be seen as some kind of political figure, and not as a cool and good looking racer who happens to write funny lovels and has his heart on the right place. His image inside China is unbeatable, why risk that for a good image on the West? Some people just don´t care about us guys, get used to it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. Dec

    I’ve seen the guy speak on TV, and he never struck me as a peasant, on the contrary I thought he was a product of Shanghai, way too cool for my taste (but then perhaps I am a peasant myself :) )

    I agree that he’s not a great writer today, but dont forget that Han Han got famous because of the books, not because of the blog. Many saw in him more than a funny writer at the time. Today he is clearly overrated and the only reason we are sepaking so much of him is:

    1- China literature watchers are desperate for new Chinese world class writer.

    2- China is such a big population that any phenomenon is always magnified x1000.

    3- As far as I know there are no translations of HH in English so 99%* of the foreign commentators, including many serious critics, have NEVER read one of his books.

    (*This is a universal constant and it goes down to 90% for books that are actually available in English)

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. Dec

    and Time is a lame magazine anyway.
    Give the guy a break, he has a magazine to sell too.

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. Dec
    Robert Woo

    why should he care about buying more racing cars? Why people should be a rational animal all the time?

    Han Han is a person who seldom wants to represent something. He does not need to pretend. I highly recommend this video for you. It was during the earlier years when Han Han first became famous, not as a warrior for justice, but a high school drop-out that perplexed many people.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    ##comment-17874 @Robert Woo: Thanks for the link Robert, just finish watching now. I had never heard him so young, he sounds (and looks) weird!

    About the cars: I don’t know if he is rational or not but many of his statements and actions suggest that he attaches more importance to racecars than to literature.

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. Dec

    I felt the need to share with you the story of Jason Bromby, a 28-year-old British diplomat. He came to China to discuss foreign policy. He has now gone missing. Please read more:

    Spread the word, something needs to be done!!

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:

    Web novel, spamming China blogs in an effort to publicise his book.

    [Reply to this comment]

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