China’s Literary Bad Boy: Han Han

From Time Magazine:

Since 2000, when (Han Han) burst onto China’s literary scene at the age of 17 with his first best seller, Triple Gate, Han has shrewdly mined a seam of youthful resentment and anomie through his stories of anguished characters in their late teens and early 20s. One of China’s top-earning authors, he is widely seen as a torchbearer for the generation born after the beginning of the country’s opening to the outside world, a group the Chinese call the “post-’80s generation”: apolitical, money- and status-obsessed children of the country’s explosive economic boom. Even China’s most notorious anti-Establishment figure, 52-year-old artist and activist Ai Weiwei, called Han “brave, clear-minded, dynamic and humorous” and predicted that he would be the “gravedigger” for the older generation of writers and artists.

Han, a high school dropout, has built a franchise by tweaking his elders, once stating, “No matter how rude and immature they are, how unskillfully they write, the future literary world belongs to the post-’80s generation. They must be more arrogant. A writer must be arrogant.” Yet despite his youthful bravado, Han, who has published 14 books and anthologies, generally stays away from sensitive issues such as democracy and human rights. His calculated rebelliousness, says Lydia Liu, a professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, exemplifies the unspoken compact his generation has forged with the ruling Communist Party: Leave us alone to have fun and we won’t challenge your right to run the country. “He is known for being a sharp critic of the government and the Establishment but he isn’t really,” says Liu. Instead, she says, Han is a willing participant in a process that channels the disaffected energy of youth into consumerism. “The language in his novels and the narrative strategies are very easy to read,” says Liu. “Basically it’s all the same book.”

…Certainly, his fellow Netizens feel that his efforts are by no means hopeless. Han’s blog, which has registered well over 200 million hits since it was started in 2006, making him one of the most popular on the planet, covers everything from the minutiae of the amateur racing world to diatribes about the hot social issue of the day on the Internet. “Neither fame nor wealth have changed his honesty or the sharpness of his criticism,” says novelist Zhang Yueran of Han. “To me he’s like the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes, whose provocative attitude doesn’t allow people to be self-satisfied.”

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October 23, 2009, 10:30 AM
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