The Time of Han Han

Written by Julen Madariaga on April 10th, 2010

Han Han has been nominated for the Time’s most Influential People, and pushed by the millions of Chinese netizens, he is quickly ascending to a likely Number 1. Xujun Eberlein has done a good analysis of the situation, particularly the disgusting way that the People’s Daily and the Shanghai Daily are trying to downplay and oppose Han Han’s election - and ironically helping him to get more votes.

I found the article on Shanghai Daily revolting. The one on the PD is so obviously unprofessional that it’s harmless, after all this is not a real newspaper. But the ShD, what is wrong with these people? What orders are they following from above, to cast Han in this light? The critique by R. Zhou we commented last year was at least intelligent and it had a point, but this clown writing on the ShD sounds like a clueless mouthpiece at the service of the party.

First of all, regarding the books, everybody knows that Han is not doing great literature. For the outside World, his work is largely untranslatable and devoid of meaning, which explains why he is not known in the West. But even for the Chinese readers he has little to offer today. His most successful novel is a juvenile rant packed with High School inside jokes that are only funny for spotty teenagers. His initial critique of the education system was sharp and well-aimed, but since then he has failed to develop into an adult author.

And yet, it is not fair to judge Han for the books.  The publishing business in China is heavily controlled, and it would be impossible for him to publish anything real, now that his target has shifted to politics. Reading his blog it becomes obvious that it’s there that you find the true Han Han today, the books looking more and more like a filler to provide income or support his reputation.

As a blogger, Han is honest and talented, and I observe he is slowly moving from small-time cadre-picking and internet-meme recitation into valuable political commentary. Two of his recent posts can serve as example: this one where he goes against the very Chinese idea of trusting the higher authorities and blaming the local ones - a phenomenon he has unwittingly nourished himself. The second one, and my favourite up to now is this post translated by the CDT. His position regarding East and West is inspiring, and as far as I know it is a first in Han.

This Time nomination can be an inflection point. We could sense it coming, as these past months a few major Western papers covered Han prominently. After the initial faux pas last year it looks like he  has done his homework, but his position is complicated. He has to find a place to live between his previous teenager couldn’t care less attitude, and an open engagement with the West that would destroy him in China.

The uniqueness of Han Han as a  political critic is partly due to this positioning. He is the only major dissident that is clearly independent of Western ideological pressure as much as of the CCP’s. This, together with his very concentrated post-80s fan base, gives him enormous strength, and he is intelligent enough not to spoil it by crossing the line, instead pushing bravely on the limits. This is why the insinuation by that Shanghai Daily idiot that he may have “ulterior motives” [1] is cowardly and low, and it shows that the heavy propaganda machinery might be moving already.

The obvious reason why the media is sending bombs in Han’s direction is that the party is  nervous about him. He is uncontrollable and he is getting way too much power, now attracting foreign attention that he didn’t use to have. It will be tough to take him down when the time comes, because there is no evidence of  ”ulteriority” in his actions up to now. But the first accusations  are coming to the press, and there will be growing attempts to frame Han.

In conclusion, it is a great thing that Han has been nominated, and I am pretty confident that the Chinese netizens will vote him up to N1. From our side in the West, we should give him some more breathing space, and a lot more credit for what he is doing. He is pushing a line that few in his position would dare touch, and he has far more potential to be effective than all the dissidents working with the West.

As we already saw here, our media has a terrible habit of  demanding dead heroes for the Western public, and they will soon want more blood. But Han has always been a free man. Here is to hoping he’ll find his own way between the traps of the Party and the righteous Western establishment.

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  1. “ulterior motives” is the repugnant and tired phrase that the propaganda bureau uses to accuse dissidents that have some help from the West, attempting to mobilize nationalist sentiment against them, as we saw it also recently in my review of the books Ant Tribe []

Comments so far ↓

  1. Apr

    Julen, I think you have “ulterior motives”, hahahahaha Harmonized people never have ulterior motives, as they have no motives.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Apr

    Sure TIME doesn’t put evil people on a pedestal, but influential hardly means “saint”. It means influential. Are these top 100 polls even scientific? Aren’t they done on the internet? The Shanghai daily makes it sound like the American government went in and told TIME to put Han Han in there just to stick it to China.

    And also, the assumption that Westerners only pay attention to “dissident freedom-of-speechers” is just as much a fossilized perception.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:

    I agree about the influence part.

    But your last sentence I am not so sure. I still think Western media pay proportionately too much attention to high profile dissidents, and too little to other people who are fighting for freedom in different ways. This enshrining of dissident heroes often has perverse effects, as it paves the way for accusations of “ulterior” motives. See the new post I just wrote for more on this problem.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Apr

    saw this? she interviewed Han Han who said the west shouldn’t be interested in China at all.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:

    Yes, I saw that interview last week. It is interesting that Rachel mentions Han’s PR manager, I wonder how long he has been using that. It is also interesting that the responses Han Han gives seem to be well thought out, and he is clearly positioning himself as an “independent writer”, rather than a teenager don’t give a damn writer that he used to be.

    Perhaps I am going to far with my assumptions, but I suspect all this is part of a strategy. Now that same PR manager should try to push the BBSs to vote for Han Han on Time…

    [Reply to this comment]

    Rachel Beitarie Reply:

    I agree, this was my impression too. Han Han is trying to grow into the role of a serious influential writer.
    Not sure pushing for a Chinese pride based vote on TIME is the way to do this though. Anyway, TIME’s editors can still celect him to the 100 list . he easily qualifies.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Apr
    john doe

    Maybe I went to the wrong internet BBS (mitbbs)

    But the most prevailing comments about Han Han there is that he is a brain damaged social sciences major who takes himself too seriously:)

    [Reply to this comment]

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