China: Youth, too much free time

Obscurity is here to stay for the residents of a distant northern Chinese town, it seems, judging from a post this week from Chongqing-based blogger-journalist Ran Yunfei.


There are many counties in China. To have never heard of a certain country is of course nothing strange. Shanxi‘s Fangshan county, for example, which I've never heard of. But recently this county's Party Committee Secretary Zhang Guobiao has come up with a new iron ricebowl-type policy which, under the camouflage of protecting minors and students will close all internet bars in the entire county, interfering with business people's freedom to do business as well as people's freedom to understand information. This is even being praised by many people, the biggest joke ever.


There has been no shortage of those who would rather starve than run the risk of choking in Chinese history, people who stick with the old ways. When the Qing Dynasty government was preparing to buy back the Shanghai-Wusong railway, it was planning to tear it up. It's like China only introduced the internet so that it could block it, in today's scandal in which Fangshan country closed all its internet bars as with Chibi city in Hubei province who once closed their internet bars as well. But have we ever thought? Other countries have the internet too, and how do they deal with it? Did they go and make a filter for sensitive terms? Did they go and suppress different views from getting out of the cage? No. They took advantage of the internet. It allows people to understand the current situations of all things happening around the world and all kinds of information to the utmost, as well as making life as convenient as possible for people. It unleashes people's creativity and provides a variety of venues for creative and business opportunities. But in China, our government sees the internet as a large unsafe unsafe element, not as a venue for the government to understand the public opinion, instead of a window for different political opinions. The internet is just like a flood; you can't stop it even if you want to. So what steps should we take to resolve this problem?



The creation of the internet has changed people's lives, and is even gradually changing the world. This is the uncontestable truth. Anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish. Zhang Guobiao's approach is foolish, but it's still received many people's applause. That's what hurts the most. Some people don't even know what their own rights are—of course some people say, I have my own computer at home, Zhang Guobiao's cutting off of the internet doesn't affect me. But please remember that today other people's rights were trampled and yours won't necessarily be protected tomorrow. Then, you won't even know your own throat has been blocked, that you've been sold out by others, and you'll still be standing there applauding. According to Zhang Guobiao's logic, when the day comes that the Chinese government wants to suppress everything in the name of stability, cutting off the entire international internet is also a possibility. This might be something those applauding Zhang Guobiao's cutting off of all internet bars didn't anticipate. If you say you don't believe it, just wait and see. Of course, I hope my prophecy better be wrong.
Due to computer system failure, I'm writing this post from an internet bar. My using an internet bar to write this post and oppose Zhang Guobiao's act and what it might suggest to the Chinese government, that in the future all internet bars might be shut down, or severely increased control of the internet, an infrigement of my right of life choice.

Zhao Lihua, editor of a small regional poetry magazine has the bad experimental poems in her closet dug up and mocked across the blogsphere. 24 year-old high school drop-out/one-hit teen literary sensation/race car driver/indy pop star/A-list blogger Han Han writes on his blog that there's no need for modern poems or poets to exist, and gives the resulting blog battle—primarily between Han himself and 90s poetry star Shen Haobo—top spot—now taken down—on their blog page.

From Shen Haobo's Sina blog, September 28 with over 110000 page views and 2000 comments:


For the empty-hearted ignorati, any trivial little thing can become a source of fun. Zhao Lihua's poems are trivial within modern Chinese poetry, but the ignorati want to spoof them, climbing over each other to be the first to insult and hurt a female poet, coming together to have fun under the pretense of poetry. Haha. Nobody can stop something like this. We have to let this gang of bloodless-hearted kids find a little something to let them feel they still exist and get it all out of their system, otherwise they might choke on their own piss.

Han's response the same day:


To tell the truth, I really don't like modern poets. The only technique that modern poets need to grasp is how to use the ‘Enter’ key. The difference between this bunch and the earliest is that this bunch don't have much sense of responsibility towards society. The label ‘poet’ is just a way for some people to deal with their own sad, messed-up lives. After all, most others have to work hard to grasp a technique. Modern poems written vertically [two to three words per line] are the easiest.



Turns out he's a representative of ‘lower body‘-style poetry. I always thought only the upper body could wear a watch [poor pun on the characters for ‘represent’]. What's opened my eyes the most, though, is learning how many schools of poetry there are. I though poets were like wild cranes floating in the clouds. I never thought that after starting a discussion everyone would show up. But where are they going and what will they do?

Shen Haobo's response the next day; over 37000 page views and 1200 comments:


Why am I willing to bother with Han Han (don't say I represent the poetry world, his luck's not that good)
Yesterday a friend asked me, said you're arguing with a kid and now you've dissed him so harsh that you've gone and hurt a lot of fans.


Haha…so I've hurt a lot of fans. But me, I can't see so well, couldn't tell that that little kid's already grown up (born in the early 80s). Picking on a little ass kid like that, it's just not right. Actually, now that I think about it, he's not that little after all, closing in on thirty already. If he insists on banging his head on the muzzle of the gun, how could I not diss him? What about respecting the elderly and loving the children? Again, I'm just acting instead of his parents in teaching him, he who wasn't taught well since he was young. In high school he wrote a book and got famous, and like one of his fans his dad actually went and wrote a book called ‘My Son, Han Han’ or something, to scam people out of money. This kind of home schooling would naturally produce such an avaricious little kid, who makes fun of everything in this world that he can't understand…

Later the same day, poet-turned-sports commentator Dong Lu got up in it, on Han's side (44,000 page views and over 375 comments):


If I hadn't seen Han Han bombarding modern poetry and poets’ blog posts, unlearned little me still wouldn't have much idea of what kind of modern poetry and poets are in fashion these days. After hurriedly and hungrily reading through all hundred plus Zhao Lihua-style poems, I feel there's some substance to Han Han's mockery. With Zhao's style, although there is no lack of outstanding works, overall many of them read as rather insipid. What makes sense is that the elementary stage in any art form is imitation. Randomly pick out any of Ms. Zhao's early works and copy them, then you'll have what amounts to preparation in the study of the writing style system of modern poems and art of writing of the future…

Beijing Doll author Chun Shu has a Sina blog too:


It's been a little wild lately. Went over to Sina Blog's main page and saw the argument over modern poems. I'm nothing like before, so easily excited. Thinking back to the beginning, if there was something like this, I definitely would have rushed right into the argument swearing at or speaking reason to people. This time it's a bit boring; the debate over modern poems never actually stopped. Modern poems have also been judged publicly as an easily ‘operated’ form. Novels at any rate still require several tens of thousands of charaters, but not modern poems! Short ones, just five minutes is enough. If all goes smoothly, one minute works too. Is this what everyone's denouncing? What's more, poems don't really have any commercial value, no ‘practicability’. Maybe this is why I like poetry, or the reason I became a poet.
To put it another way, whether it's Zhao Lihua, Shen Haobo or myself, we all write our own poems, and we haven't taken any of your money, haven't used your backyard. If you don't like to read them, feel it's unthinkable to voice your own opinions, this is normal. This is your freedom as an individual. At least now you know modern poems and poets still exist; at least you understand some things you didn't know before. I think this alone is enough.

Sounds like it might be over, then…

…heavyweight poet Yi Sha shows up, also on the 29th, with some sarcasm:


“Paper is expensive nowadays; is there anything wrong with writing to the end of the line like good prose?”, that's why there's no need to exist.
“The good thing about ancient poetry is that it has form. Form is not a restriction. Just like only if cars are driven within a designated route will there be an audience to watch…”, that's why ancient poetry must exist, and modern poems have no need to exist.




China's modern poetry world doesn't have any fashionable high school students, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's masterpiece modern poems seldom have such cool names as “Three Doors“, “Young One, Fly Away”, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets tend only to watch Schumacher and Alonso‘s races, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets seldom have little faces like opium addicts, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets also don't link to Xu Jinglei's blog, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets, most of them have been to university, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets don't envy serial plagiarizer Guo Jingming, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets haven't taken up a lewd loose ‘nipple’, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets haven't learned how to take on tradition by acting like a spoiled brat, that's why there's no need for them to exist.


China's modern poets’ blogs’ visit rates are too low, that's why there's no reason for them to exist.

总之,韩寒说得对:”没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……” “没有必要……”

In short, Han Han was right: “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”, “no need…”

Nothing more until the next morning when sex-friendly poetess Yin Lichuan, old comrade to Shen Haobo, was called in by a reader of her (Sina) blog:

前阵子听说过,没真去看,因我是被BBS养大的,在诗歌论坛上成长为诗人地,对这些早习以为常。对啊,诗人,就是全世界人民都有资格骂的那种人,就是没用的人,弱势的人,不与时俱进的人……赵丽华在某个阶段写的那几首诗,似乎最大的诟病就是——这就是诗,那我们也会写——那就写嘛。”回车诗”不也是建立在模仿 “废话诗”的基础上么?诗歌首先是门手艺,网民们要有这个雅兴,就先模仿着写吧,可比模仿国真慕容要好。先模仿着,写一百首,兴许就能辨别好坏,就能理解赵丽华。我暂无这个雅兴,去找废话诗的杰作给大家瞧,大家可以去看杨黎,和许多年轻人。

Someone left a message saying that Shen Haobo and Han Han were fighting, why don't you go help…
Heh, so familiar. I clicked open the weather; not suitable to go outside. I opened the post to see the recent quarreling, from Zhao Lihua to the Pear Flower Faction…to Han Han and others.
A while back I heard about this, but didn't bother to go look. Because I was raised on BBSes, grew up into a poet in the poetry forums, came to see things like this as normal early on. Yeah…poets…the people most suited to insult others in the world; useless people, weaklings, out of touch with reality…[snip]…Zhao Lihua wrote those poems during a certain phase, seems the biggest problem is people saying, ‘if these are poems, then we can write them too.’ Well then write them! Aren't “Enter key poems” just built on imitations of ‘nonsense poems'? Poems first and foremost are a craft. If netizens want to cultivate this taste, then start with imitating, you can be better than imitations of Wang Guozhen or Xi Murong. First imitate, write a hundred poems, maybe you'll be able to tell the difference been good and bad, and to understand Zhao Lihua. I don't have this cultivated taste for now, so will go find a nonsense poem masterpiece for people to see, like Yang Li, or so many youth.

October 3, Shen Haobo comes back, taking to task Han's desire to see an end to modern poetry with twenty points directed at the young writer. Here are just a few:

5、 诗歌是”创造”。是在自由精神激荡下的创造。是在创造”美”,这个”美”不是你们所习惯理解的那种”优美”,它有更广泛的含义。仿写不是创造,创造需要独立的精神和个性。

5. Poems are “creations”. They're created in the excitement of a free spirit. They create ‘beauty'; this beauty isn't the ‘grace’ that you've come to understand; it has a much larger implication. Imitation isn't creation; creation needs an independent spirit and personality.


6. An independent spirit and personality implies that one should not be so keen to win over the masses, like Han Han. First it's “my many netfriends”, then a minute later “the lot of us”; this is guilt and incompetence. This is setting off the masses, this is lack of personality. This is a cultural beggar begging for sympathy from the masses. What an independent and free spirit requires poets to deal with firstly is their own soul, not the public or the masses.

7、 因为诗歌不是大众文艺,不是为群众创作的。所以,用诗人李亚伟的话说,它飞得太高,你们有些够不着。如果天天想着大众,想着团结广大网友,那你们——韩寒、董路、李承鹏们,永远够不着。

7. Because poetry is not a mass art, it's not created for the masses. That's why, using the words of poet Li Yawei, he's flown too high, you're a bit over your heads. If all you think about every day is the masses, about uniting your vast netriends, then you—Han Han, Dong Lu, Li Chengpeng—will always be in over your heads.


8. That's why poetry is the only form of writing that can't be traded for money. It's too faithful too peoples’ inner hearts. Because it can't be traded for money, that's it's being seen by you and your vast huddle of netfriends as useless. Yeah, it's not a commodity, and can't be used for trade. It's inherently noble; it's not Han Han's books or Dong Lu or Li Chengpen's sports commentary. And then there's the insulting comments left on my blog by your “vast netfriends”; you're so poor and pedantic. Their instincts tell them that poets must be poor and pedantic, because poems really can't be exchanged for money. The problem is, how could poets bear to use poems to trade for money? It's not like we're Han Han, right? A culture-seller so poor he wrote a novel for some money to scrape by!


14. The marginalization of poetry is just a start; it's too spiritual. Pure literature's full marginalization has already become reality; novelists who really deal with the inner heart will never sell better than Han Han's trash writing. This is the objective reality, no need shy away or get depressed. This is a choice even the best writers and poets must make, nothing worth complaining about. But, Han Haners will still hate everything, because we don't take them out to play, because all along we just feel that he's a writer, but one that relies on sensationalism, that relies on a playful manner and performer's instincts, relies on putting on a little rebel (rebel my ass! Is there still time to beg his many netfriends to be good?) act to become a hot-selling writer. That's why he's so hateful inside.

The least of Han Han's worries at this point is what to blog about next. His October 4 post in response to Shen's above:


I laugh and you jump; I whistle and you shout


Today the weater is good; like these last few days I want to go out and play again. But then I saw those poets over there's responses, think it's too cruel. I can't play with them anymore. Poets by nature have a bit of a nervous disposition; if I keep on playing they'll just go crazy. As if seeing the poems they write is punishment enough, they still want everyone to see the non-poem style in which they write. I've really never seen a group like this before, which makes no contribution to society, so sombre and dreadful, so fond of running away, pleased by groups but don't group themselves, incompetent, lazy, amoral, still unable to form logical thoughts, mentally weak, forcing others to accept them and dissing those they notice that don't. The worst of is that they have no literary talent.
You're pathetic in that you only want to see the day that I lose interest and stop playing you and you'll just once again recede from everyone's sight. Backing out of people's sight isn't a bad thing per se; those who write articles should actually back out of people's sight. Most important is that I see how badly you want to jump on stage and get a few words in, but the stage is a big high, and you poets keep stepping on each other trying to get up. I laugh and you jump; I whistle and you shout.
But when I've moved on, the spotlight and audience will be gone too. After you climb on up, you can use your mobile phones to illuminate yourselves as you perform for each other.

By this point China's halfway through its week-long National Day holiday and both sides seem to have cooled down, but October 10 was still not too late for cultural commentary journalist-blogger Wang Xiaofeng:


Take Han Han out and shoot him


There's no room for a person like Han Han in a harmonious society; he's always looking to make trouble. Whether it's as a writer or as a driver, Han Han's job should be to do his work well: write well, drive well, be a good boy, keep his parents from worrying, keep society from worrying. This is what everyone is willing to see.


But, this uneducated child, always loves to pick a fight. People in poetry forums are full of good will toward each other, but he has to say shit about people; Yu Qiuyu is actually quite healthy, but Han has to say he looks like he washes his face with deep-fried pancakes. Poets like to write in a compact and unconstrained style, but he has to say those poets are just playing games with the Enter key……and much more like this. What it boils down to is Han Han is an unstable element in the cultural circle, has taken a bamboo pole and is running around like wild smacking at hornets nests, making a big mess of things. So, let's take Han Han out, shoot him, and be done with it. This way things will be much more peaceful and harmonious.


Now I'm thinking that if today there were no such person as Han Han, or to say if there were a Han Han who had received formal education, the same as all the rest of us, sticking to convention from elementary school through to university, and then naturally becoming a pillar in society or a talent in a certain field, then there wouldn't be the sorts of things that are happening to Han Han today. But, regretfully, he hasn't received much education, that's why he always appears so vulgar and rude, so out of line, the cultural black sheep of the family, and there wouldn't be all this ado over nothing.


It seems the root of this problem lies with Han Han's education. Since Han Han started several battles with scholars this year, this brat hasn't slowed down, and the people he crashes into often get hurt by Han's unforeseen stabs. If you're so learned and wise, although just a driver, why is it you can't do better than anyone else?


The people who have provoked Han Han have all died quite messily. Because not only does Han Han rip the G-string off, he also stirs people up for others to see. The worst part is that Han Han has his own form of logic. He doesn't play by common sense, giving the people he takes on an endless headache. That a driver can defeat a group of scholars, that's pretty funny. But the biggest pity hidden behind his back is that sometimes what knowledge gives people isn't wisdom, but it allows them to get used to and have conviction in identifying with things that are universal. And people sometimes put too much faith in knowledge and experience.

Around the same time, Bokee blogger/journalist Keen Kang (who also has a Sina blog), sees a possible solution to the fried-egg state of affairs of Chinese poetry in calling for legendary Chinese poet Bei Dao—who doesn't have a Sina blog—to return to China from exile in America:


For Bei Dao


Classmate Bei Dao,


You come home now.


Get on a plane


Use your frightened heart


To see the Pacific


Look down on the Himalayas






Brilliant and great







Beauty, every piece


Majestic, every line


Flowery, every punctuation


  • zhwj

    Thanks for writing all of this up. I’ve really only been following Yi Sha myself, and that alone has been posting two or three pieces a day mocking Han Han.

    I think this exchange from a Sina panel captures the whole thing pretty accurately:


    ( )

  • […] But when I hear people say that modern poetry – real poetry, constructed with language, not theatrics – is dead, I ask them to listen to my iPod. When will the most talented hip-hop artists – from Uganda to Cuba to Cincinnati – be recognized as the true poets of contemporary society? […]

  • “The internet is just like a flood; you can’t stop it even if you want to”, says Ran yunfei. That’s true. The problem is, as he correctly reminds me, that Chinese authorities often chose to shut it up rather than consider it as a means for development in culture, politics and social matters. Reporteres sans frontières writes today that the free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has been partally reopened (only the English-version) after a year of closure. That’s incredible, if you think to the western usage of the net. But that’s true. And that’s even more incredible if you think that western firms choose to yield to Chinese government’s censorship request to make more business in the Internet field and get fatter market slices. Some of them are the biggest Internet companies in the world: Yahoo! (involved in the past in revealing sensible data to authorities), Msn and Google.

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