The Most Famous Blogger You’ve Never Heard Of

In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Wasserstrom looks at the work of Han Han and asks why he isn’t a household name in the West, despite being perhaps the world’s most popular blogger:

Han Han is a big deal in China — and among many China scholars and journalists in the West — and there’s no mystery as to why. He has a large and loyal following among young Chinese, something the three dissidents I listed, as admirable as they are, haven’t attained. And he has consistently been at or near the center of some of the liveliest debates taking place on the Chinese Internet, the closest thing to a public sphere that exists on the mainland.

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How is it that someone so significant and interesting remains largely unknown outside of China? It can’t be because no one has written about him. Back in 2009, Simon Elegant profiled him for Time. In 2010, Foreign Policy included him in its list of 100 top global thinkers and Perry Link celebrated his “Aesopian wit” in an International Herald Tribune op-ed. Last year, the New Yorker ran an excellent piece on him by Evan Osnos cleverly titled “The Han Dynasty,” and Fast Company called him one of the 100 most creative people in business. This year he’s been the subject of an unusually engaging “Lunch with the FT” feature by David Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, and was discussed in Jacob Weisberg’s Slate essay on Internet censorship in China. And so on.

One reason his global fame might trail that of other Chinese figures could be that nothing he has done has garnered international headlines of the sort that came with Ai Weiwei’s arrest, Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel prize, and Chen Guangcheng’s escape. It’s one thing for an individual to be profiled in magazines, and quite another for him or her to do something that lands them on the front page or the CNN news ticker, displayed on muted televisions at airports and in gyms. And there is something about the narrative of the brave, rebellious dissident that appeals to Western audiences in a way that an inside-the-system blogger might not.

And Han Han’s writings have not been readily available in English. There’ve been plenty of translations of his blog posts, but typically only in outlets read by the China-obsessed.

Read much more by and about Han Han via CDT.

August 28, 2012 5:03 PM
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