The Time of Han HanWritten 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”  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.
- “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 [↩]