He's the man man
Han Han, one of the most widely read bloggers in a country that censors its independent voices, is a rebel who does not really seek to overthrow anybody, a troublemaker who does not want to cause too much trouble. He sees, with dismay, much the same limitations among his readers in China. Looking ahead to 2012, he sees harder times for the Chinese people, but he does not foresee any crisis, nor any hope for improvement from the coming new “arrangement” of party leaders, because the people ultimately are willing to accept hardship.
The Economist interviewed Mr Han in Zaozhuang, at the mid-point of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line. He had just finished second in a weekend rally race, two seconds behind first place. When he explains why the coming change in Communist Party leadership does not mean much in itself, he underscores his point with racing terminology.
“Each time there is a new leader, the Chinese people have new hopes. They hope they will become very open leaders, and then as before, they don’t do anything. I think we still have to depend on those writers and artists to do their part,” he says. “Just like racecar driving: no push, no change. So I think we still need to depend on ourselves to obtain greater open space.”
For people like him, 2012 will be a hard year: “For a writer, that period is the most uncomfortable because the controls from the party, from the government, will be tighter than in normal times,” he says. And most others won’t bother to push, because “Chinese people’s demands are lower,” he says. They are “meek”.
What about all of the noisy clamour, then, on Sina Weibo, a microblogging service that, despite being monitored and censored, was an impressive catalyst for discontent after the Wenzhou train crash of 2011? Could that portend something more challenging for the government in 2012? He dismisses that notion with the clever cynicism that has marked his writing since he was a teenager.
Mr Han, 29, made his name a decade ago as a novelist, and has since built a following of millions online for his blog postings (the most subversive of which are quickly taken down, including a scathing commentary on the Wenzhou crash). He can express himself powerfully in just a few characters: his blog post on the awarding of the 2010 Nobel peace prize to a dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was merely an empty set of quotation marks. His problem with Weibo is that users are content merely with the act of transmission.
“It doesn’t bring about any real change or progress. You see a lot of stuff about the Wenzhou incident, you feel everyone’s really angry, you feel like you could go open the window and you would see protesters on the street,” Mr Han says. “But once you open the window, you realise that there’s nothing there at all.”
Mr Han says he will try to do more in 2012 himself, as a writer, but within limits. He plans a new magazine but says it won’t be too controversial (his first try at a magazine, in 2009, was quickly shut down by authorities). He does not want to attract more attention from China’s security services, because he does not want hassle for those around him. As much as he derides the limits of Weibo, Mr Han warns people not to expect too much from him in 2012.
“I won’t do anything terribly radical because I believe that it’s really like motor racing. My first point is ‘no push, no change’, but my second point is, if you push too hard, maybe your time will be slower. And maybe you push much too hard and crash.”
from The World In 2012 print edition