China: Freethinking young writer takes on the cultural establishment

With the majority of China's artists and intellectuals having been silenced or executed earlier this century, what does that say about that generation's thinkers who are still around today? Han Han (韩寒), perhaps the one post-eighties writer most read by those under thirty, gave birth to a huge controversy earlier this month when he published a post on his blog which took aim at and showed no mercy to three prominent middle-aged contemporary artists: painter Chen Yifei (陈逸飞), film-maker Chen Kaige (陈凯歌) and fellow blogger-writer Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨), with Yu known to many for having been part of an eleven-member team of writers commissioned by the Gang of Four during the Cultural Revolution.

Han Han (��)

Was this an attack borne out of contempt for past crimes colluded with? Grumblings a young non-comformist and anti-traditional writer coming into his own? Or just the way some youth talk to elders in pseudo-Confucius modern China?

In late May Han Han blogged about reading an article online written by fellow blogger Yu Qiuyu mourning the death of Shanghai artist Chen Yifei, first thinking it was written by Chen Kaige (whose ex-wife, Chen Hong (陈红)—later seen speaking out angrily against Han Han—was set to star in Chen Yifei's upcoming movie) and then called it a joke.

Here's the offending post [zh]:


Three middle-aged men


Chen Yifei worked like mad last year in shooting his film, something I strongly admire. After his death a reporter phoned and asked for my thoughts. At the time I hadn't heard the news and quite taken aback, asked how he died. Worked himself to death, the reporter said. I was silent for a bit then said one should be happy to die for what one likes. Only, poor Chen Hong; So young and has to take care of the two kids. Then the phone went quiet for a few seconds so I hung up. Two days later I saw the newspaper and saw I had gotten the marriages confused.


I don't know why but Yu Qiuyu, Chen Kaige and Chen Yifei all look the same to me. They're the same people. That's why I often get them mixed up. Some say they're masters (I suspect they themselves put that one out), but I've never believed this. I think a master should at least have a charming personality, which these three lack. To be frank, I don't like the three of them. They bear too many marks of the middle-aged Chinese man: dishonest, tricky and sly, lacking imagination and having no sense of humor. They all wallow and play in their lofty self-created concepts. All the ideas put out by the three of them revolve around one word: “great.” [wei/伟] And where they've become “great” is in being “fake” [wei/伪], “obscene” [wei/猥] and “impotent” [wei/痿].


Of course, there are many people like this, many of whom I like. So why don't I like these three? I think the main reason is I don't like the way they look. Including Yu Qiuyu's hairdo. Masters can let themselves go, but these three absolutely don't count as having let themselves go. This reason naturally quite superficial. But, if I don't like someone's looks what else can I do? My looks haven't stopped people from liking me, all the young ladies for example. I just don't like their looks.


A while back Teacher Yu Qiuyu could often be seen on television raving about some model's upbringing, asking the skimpily-dressed model questions like ‘what's the difference between 1 and 2?’ But the weirdest thing is, no matter in what situation, one always feels Teacher Yu Qiuyu washes his face not with towels but sticks of fried dough [implication of feminine appearance or character]. When Teacher Yu's book ‘Culture's Travails‘ came out, I rather enjoyed reading it, felt it was written rather well. I was a junior in high school at the time and still imitiating his writing style. Later I saw a number of his photos and thought, ‘how could he be such a pretty-boy? How he stand out so strongly from these simple backgrounds? Then later Yu Jie (余杰) compelled Yu Qiuyu to confess. I forget what I was up to at the time, because I had no idea and can only imagine how it went. Of these two people both surnamed Yu, the difference in age is almost two generations, and the younger Yu even compelled the older to confess. Yu Qiuyu shouldn't dismiss this son Yu Jie. At the time I made the unethical suggestion to some friends that Yu Jie's not bad, has talent even. If I were Yu Qiuyu I would have listened to him. Although my parents didn't raise me, they still passed down some…….this case just goes to show how superficial I am. From then on I only saw Teacher Yu on television.

The last two paragraphs go on with some serious mocking of Chen Kaige, Chen Hong, Zhang Yimou (张艺谋), Yu Qiuyu and Chen Yifei, finishing off a post that has already received over 6,700 comments and nearly 360,000 pageviews, par for the course on this young iconoclast's blog.

Yu Qiuyu has two blogs [zh], but no mention of the dispute can be found on either, although a google search suggests one was published and later erased. It might have been this letter [zh] found on Liu Yihan's blog, which the blogger insists was written by Yu himself: ‘Han Han, you're a money-grubbing thug,’ in response to the above post:


Comrade Han Han,


Hello. First off please forgive me for using this word comrade [euphemism for gay]. That comrade this comrade is not, nor is this comrade that comrade. Comrade and comrade don't mean the same thing. I use this word comrade to make you realize just how stern my serious warning to you is.


First off, I want to tell you that insulting people is wrong. Why is insulting people wrong? Because insulting people can easily anger other people who, once angry, can easily get high blood pressure. And getting high blood pressure easily leads to strokes and heart disease; getting strokes and heart disease leads easily to death. Han Han, you should know that you are now life-threatening.


Again, not only are you life-threatening, but money-grubbing as well. According to one Shanghai newspaper, you want to put out a new CD as well. That's why you set out to fry me, for wider CD distribution. In order to grab some money you heartlessly set out to frame me. According to little sister Sun Yue (孙悦), your happiness is built upon the pain of others.


Han Han, why am I unable to figure out why you would seek to attack me? I think we have are bound by fate.


1) I live in Shanghai, and so do you.
2) I'm the most famous middle-aged writer, and you are the most famous young adult writer.
3) My first book was called ‘Culture's Travails‘ and yours ‘Three Doors‘. I suffer for the masses, and you shout for them. In this way we both represent the people's thoughts and interests. We're both on the same road; there's no need to make this messy. As for this situation, what angers me the most is Yu Jie. I'm surnamed Yu, he's surnamed Yu. We're from the same family. There's no need. Although, every family is different. Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren are also from the same family, but their ideals were different. Different, that's why they went down two different roads. But our ideals are completely the same. That's why you should not attack me.


Han Han, you think about it. Looking at this from three different perspectives, your insulting of me was all wrong. Regarding some opinions and reservations you may have of me, I can't help but speak up.
1) To say I'm not a ‘master,’ you couldn't be more wrong. I'm a university professor, a so-called great one. Do you understand none of this?
2) As for why I always ask those university students and young adults the difference between 1 and 2, I think you should understand. Almost all the students coming from our university know these questions; the so-called reversing of things grown extreme. According to the related investigation and Franklin Yang, our university is one of the top-ranking universities in the world, turning students into gods. Things reverse when grown too extreme, that's why now only if they know the difference between 1 and 2 are they then suitable university students. If you ask others they won't know!
3) As for why I let myself go, sigh, Han Han, as if you don't know. Most of my writing income goes toward Project Hope. I let myself go because I don't have money! Hope you can be like me, put most of your writing income towards Project Hope.


Han Han, very sorry about your questions. I can only answer as such.


Hope all's well.

Not so many comments, but more captivating on the whole. Here are some random quotes from other bloggers: [zh]


To speak my mind, I don't get Han Han's argument. Not to mention that he mocks the dead, this behavior is downright despicable. He even says Yu Qiuyu uses fried dough strips to wash his face? Mocking someone based on their appearance is something I abhor. The saddest part of all this is that this kind of joking, with its flimsy arguments, applies to his supporters as well.



Actually I don't mind this published views and sayings. “Authority” also makes mistakes from time to time. Didn't Mao Zedong make mistakes too? But he at least ought to respect himself.



Last time he went off at the mouth, I stood on the side of this brat surnamed Han. This time, it's not so easy. To support this Han brat? I've heard nasty stuff about two of the three people he insulted. Disagree with this Han brat? The causticity with which he takes on Teacher Yu Qiuyu actually resonates with me. What Teacher Yu has done is just as disgusting as his face. Peels away the skin of culture, struggling everyday with celebrities on television.



Cultural exchange is fine, mutually comparing notes is fine, but to take something like exchanging which was a good thing to begin with and turn it into a kind of humiliation and a personal attack, this is a little too despicable. From ancient times until now, Chinese writers have had their own tradition. Appears to be something even a new tide thinker like Han Han can't avoid…

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