It seems that China’s young netizens are not the only ones who are so hyped by Han Han’s nomination for the Time 100 Most Influential People. Traditional medias in China, both the propoganda machines and the more independent ones, have rushed to offer their two cents on the phenomenon. Some of them are sober and objective, while the others are ridiculous. When you read pieces like this(English )and that (Chinese), you wonder whether the critical thinking abilities of those authors never passed the level of Chinese primary school education, during which time they were probably taught to moralize every thing and that anything not of ideological significance is garbage. That is why they never seem to understand a word like “influential” can be neutral, and does not have to have any connotation of heroism or the embodiment of truth. And of course the even more dangerous line of reasoning in those articles is that Han is being a running dog for American imperialism, and they are just using him to spread American values that are not suitable for China. The sources of these two articles are both state-run medias. Thus you start wondering, is Han Han in the danger of being officially labelled that way soon?
Last year, when Time Magazine first profiled Han Han, and seriously mistook him “as generally stays away from sensitive issues such as democracy and human rights”, and “a willing participant in a process that channels the disaffected energy of youth into consumerism”, Raymond Zhou of China Daily wrote a very interesting response to Time’s misrepresentation of Han Han. Using a sarcastic tone that is similar to Han’s style, Zhou recommend to Han that the only way for the Western media to respect him is to become an “activist or dissident”, and that to put himself into the jail would surely do the best job. Being a journalist himself, Zhou ‘s main point is not to dishonor any political dissents by questioning their intentions , but rather to ridicule the stereotypical expectations of Western media for martyrdom when reporting about authoritarian regimes like China where “human rights abuse” occurs everyday. But Han Han is not. Like argued in my last post about him, he is an independent thinker who stays true to his conscience and his sensitivity to the evils and ills of the society as a writer. He is reluctant to subscribe to ideologies.
Thus I do not know what happened to make medias like Time suddenly think so highly of him. Well, perhaps still not very high. If you look at Time’s description of his nomination, you notice that their predominant impression of him is a rebellious writer who in his adolescence has challenged the education system in China, while there is a “btw” note in the end saying that he “pokes fun” at social ills. Thus what earns him a place in the nomination is his influence – exactly what the poll suppose to be about – not his identification to “Western Values” or his activist work. Time is not seeing him on their side yet. Yet that is also why the language of the propoganda machines quoted above are particularly alarming. It seems that people at the top are trying to set Han Han up by labelling him as what he is not.
On the other hand, the “fifty-cents party” has long tried to conjure up stories of Han Han’s ultimate fate in the cybersphere. ( The “fitfy cents party” are those who are extremely pro-government and try to spread around ideological comments online. Some of them are voluntary, while others are said to be paid by the CCP to wedge propoganda war against people like Han Han. Rumor has it that their rate is fifty cents per comment, and hence the origin of their name). They usually suspect that he would either migrate to Western “imperial” countries once he runs out of his course in China, or he would be “harmonized” like other dissents when his true cause is revealed. Yet given his immense popularity, and the vows of many his fans that if he is harmonized, they would start a revolution, it’s highly unlikely the CCP would bluntly use the charge of “threaning social stability” to jail Han Han. But there are still many other ways for them to sabotage his influence… And this post on sina.com has offered the most comprehensive list I have found so far about other possibilities, and the most plausible ones to me include: 1. To put pressure on his race car team to make him less outspoken, otherwise to find an excuse to bar him from competing. 2. To see if he has any tax evasion problem. 3. To label his not-yet-published magazine as engaging in “unfair competition”, because it offers a much higher rate to attract writers. 4. To hire gangsters to beat him up, or worse, to set up a car accident for him.
While I think any of the mentioned possibilities might occur, perhaps we can be assured, at least for now, for two things. First is that there are only two major Party machines, the two links we provided above, which are extremely antagonistic to Han Han. One of them is a local paper, Shanghai Daily, and the other is the website for People’s Daily. Thus, it can be argued that Shanghaidaily is being extremely harsh to Han Han only because it does not want people from the national level to accuse them as incompetent. The other one though runs on the national level, takes place only in the cyberspace. Thus, criticisms at the national level is not formalised yet, as the choice of platform for discussion is website, not the newpapers themselves. Furthermore, Party-run English newspapers like China Daily and Global Times both have given a somewhat neutral report on Han Han, showing that they are not preparing a full scale attack on him yet.
The second reassuring factor, and perhaps the more important one, is Han Han’s sober awareness of the untouchable part of the Party’s nerve and the limit of his influence. His first comment upon hearing his nomination was that “Time is just a magazine!”, and asked people not to take the Poll too seriously. Later, he gave an official response to his nomination in his blog, the last paragraph of which is particularly moving: ( courtesy of CDT’s translation)
At last, let me return to the point of so-called influence. I often feel very ashamed. I am just a person with a pen. Maybe my writings make people feel like they are releasing some of their anger or resentment. But other than that what’s the real use? The so-called influence is illusory. In China, those who have influence are those who have power. Those who can make rain from clouds, those who can decide if you live or die, or keep you somewhere in between life and death. They are the people who really have influence. However, I am not sure it is just because they are afraid of search engines or they are too fragile to be searched; we often cannot find them by using search engines. We are just a small role on the stage, under the spotlight. But they own the theater. They can at any time bring the curtain down, turn off the lights, close the door and let the dogs out. Later the dogs all disappear and the sky is blue again; there is no trace of what has happened. I just wish those people could really put their influence into good use. And those of us on this stage, even those who built this theater in the past, should make efforts to gradually take down those high walls and light bulbs. Let the sunshine in. That kind of light, no one can extinguish it again.
Han Han is only going to do what he is capable of and what is the realistic. He’s not going to be your martyr or his hero. He is just a writer, who tries to stay true to his conscience and humanity. Let us just hope he can keep on being who he is and only doing the things he wants to do. If someday, he really can no longer keep a balance between his conscience and the Party’s nerve , well, it might just mean that it is time to get rid of that nerve…