Being the world's most widely-read blogger seems to have made Han Han a candidate for the 2010 Time 100 list, though a certain amount of selection bias probably isn't hurting given the other contenders from China this year.
Han's blog service provider Sina.com ran his nomination as a top feature earlier in the week and many others such as rival QQ have given space to the debate over the degree of Han's influence; Han himself has posted on the topic, translated here by China Digital Times‘ Xiao Qiang:
I often ask myself, what contribution have I made to this society which is full of sensitive words? Maybe in the end, all I contribute is another sensitive word which is my name. That’s all. Everyday I get out of bed around noon, often wasting money on digital gadgets, and I’m very picky about food. Thank goodness that I did not add more load or sin to this society, at least so far. I do not have a grand vision; I only want the relevant departments to treat art, literature and the news media better, and our small readers, listeners, audience, netizens, urban dwellers and citizens can all enjoy this benefit. I may not have the talent and ability to write great things, but some others do. But you [the goverment] should not castrate people or glorify those who have been castrated.
Sina.com blogger and university professor Xie Yong thought to consider the source of Han's perceived influence:
I have to admit, I'm a fan of Han Han's, which is why when I saw in the April 5 edition of Guangzhou Daily
that Han Han had made onto Time
magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world, I was honestly a bit taken aback: not that he made it onto the list, but because of the headline used on the report and the somewhat ironically-placed question mark at the end of it.
I can't speak on Guangzhou Daily‘s reasoning in using an interrogative sentence as a headline, perhaps they wanted to reflect the doubts expressed by some “netizens”: since when has Han Han become influential globally? The way these netizens see it, putting Han Han, a young writer and race car driver, alongside the world's politicians and corporatists, will affect the “authoritativeness” of this power list. And possibly as these netizens see things, “China” is not in fact part of “the world”, therefore the billion plus people who live on this piece of land can't be valid members of “the world”; and which is why, even if Han Han has become our most influential young person today and a symbol of the current “civil” society, his influence is still insufficient to be considered “global”. In other words, this kind of netizen will only recognize the authority of this list when only politicians and the economic elite make it on……
Actually, the way I see it, there isn't really any “question” now as to whether or not Han Han is influential. Not too long ago, Mr. Zhang Ming
was giving a talk in Shenzhen and he put forward that, “the influence of all university professors in China today combined, still wouldn't compare to a single Han Han.” Of course a statement like that is a bit dramatic, but to a certain extent there is a kind of truth to it. Perhaps, what needs to be further considered today is: from where exactly is it that Han Han's influence comes?
Naturally, there's an argument that goes, Han Han isn't anything special, all he ever says is just “common sense”, and all he really relies upon are his handsome looks and his equally handsome writing. The reason he has as much “influence” as he does today is the result of media hype; New Concept Writing made Han Han famous overnight, Sina.com made Han Han a top grassroots blogger, and then Southern Media Group
turned him into “Citizen Han”, and from there onto “global mainstream media” and becoming a cultural hero crafted by American media, a Chinese youth of global influence…
Circulating around the microblogs has been a 10 year-old video clip of Han Han taking part in a CCTV program discussion along with one “specialist scholar” and an “all-round overachieving” high school student. Having watched this old program, it's not hard for us to see where Han Han's influence truly comes from, that he truly is ahead of his time, being able to oppose the system as well as the comments the system has in store for the vast number of people in this society, and he does it with a footing in common sense. Not to mention, this being a system which even until today continues to regulate the lives of the people in it. Further, something which could be felt from watching that clip, in China today, is how rare and precious common sense is, and that in order to possess common sense in life takes not just courage, but more so wisdom.
Of course, we could also say that Han Han's influence, to a certain extent, is a product of the times, however, this kind of “product” has also come about in a rather remarkable way: with society putting out large numbers of people with warped minds and lacking common sense all the while giving them the faintest of glimpses of the real world, forcing us through various means to kneel down, but to a certain extent also making us wish to stand up; as someone standing tall, healthy, having successfully gotten free of the system and even possibly come to oppose it, Han Han was able to become influential. From this perspective, Han Han's influence came not from any particular media but, rather more importantly, something of a conspiracy borne of his personal struggles and conscious decisions made by fans such as myself; furthermore, as long as the system continues to exist, Han Han's influence will remain strong. As long as the system continues to swell and our minds remain burdened, Han Han's influence will only continue to soar.
Tough thing to try and pin down, but something that author and Chinese-American Wang Boqing is certain that exists:
Han Han influences me, not because he's a writer, China's had enough of those over the past several decades and despite what they might think of themselves, I don't read their stuff because there isn't anything in their works to see. Which is why I haven't read any of Han Han's works, I don't even know what he's written. He's influenced me not through his online writings—everybody's writing online these days, everything from Sister Lotus
to Brother whatever
, and anyway who has the time to pay attention? How could the Internet possibly represent public opinion? The people least represented by the Internet are the silent majority. What influences me is that as a ‘post-80s’ who concerns himself with social justice and equality, he dares to make his own viewpoints known; by doing so through thorough analysis and the use of vivid language, he captures people's empathy and support. Many born from the 1950s through the 1970s are so desensitized now that they don't even care about their own rights.
Han Han definitely has influence, and not just over people like me not prone to being influenced, but even overseas Chinese. On my latest trip back to the USA, I went to a friend's party; everyone there were longtime residents, former international students, yet the only the Chinese person talked about was Han Han; everyone was very interested in discussing him, the kind of attention I can't remember having been paid to any intellectual in at least ten years. Zhang Yimou, maybe, with his opening ceremony for the Olympics? Those overseas Chinese Nobel laureates? Nobody's heard of them! Science has its limits, but ideas know no boundaries.
Maybe Han can be called a dissident now—or will be, if he ranks high enough come May 1 or beats out someone like Bo Xilai; here's part of a post of his from 3am on April 5, the day the news of his Time 100 nomination broke in Chinese, ‘Letter from a Stranger’:
There's a department in our country, it's called the Letters and Petitions Office. In ancient times, when common folk found themselves having been wronged by local officials, they would travel to Beijing to try and make their case known to the Emperor. The lucky ones would find an official's sedan chair to try and stop, and the really lucky ones would come across the Emperor himself, in disguise to go out in public. These low-probability incidents were what provided all of society with moral support on matters of justice and equality. Today, leaders drive nice cars, people can't commit suicide by throwing themselves in front of sedans anymore, and due to high exposure on television, the highest leaders can no longer travel incognito among the public; even if they go out to the countryside, at most all they get to see are film sets and peasant-artist performances specially arranged by local leaders, then again those are just big screen stars on a whirlwind tour that doesn't have much to do with common folk. In many case, the Letters and Petitions Office is the only option for people who have born the brunt of unfair treatment.
Of course, clearly, these people are too naive; in a country with no independent judiciary, how could one possibly expect a government to stand up for you? Say a kid hits you, his mom curses at you then his dad punches you, and you go to the grandpa to rat on his grandson, obviously you'd still have a big kick swinging your way. Even though those office lobbies with their 30-meter-high ceilings might have signs proclaiming the ways they exist to service you, in fact those are just calligraphy works of art for people to admire; it's not clear how some people mistake those for work guidelines…
So, once people figured out that petitioning is a trap which lets you get yourself blacklisted, they began approaching the media, pursuing justice just like they would pursue a woman: make a big enough scene and you can get what you want. Without question, there's a big difference between China's media workers and its civil servants; each profession has its goals and qualities. Media workers for the most part have their journalistic ideals and pursue stories; even if they can't go against the banned topics that are sent down each day, they continue to fight against evil as long as it's still within their power to do so.[…]
Many people who have received unfair treatment see me as a media outlet, and between articles sent into the magazine
and letters sent to me personally, there are a lot who have hope that I can bring them justice, write about their story or get it some media coverage. I read every letter carefully, but I just feel helpless. It's a heavy weight to bear for these things to have happened to your family, but for news media, these things have already lost their news value, and I believe that even if I were to write something, it still wouldn't make traditional media pay it any attention. It takes a lot of help from traditional media for any one problem to be resolved or to get leaders to put on a show of feeling people's urgency or sharing the same views. The majority of letters are about about poor quality of building structures in a certain small community or trash dumps or power stations being built near another, and then there are those from people being forcibly evicted. If you've been forcibly evicted, that's not news, that's just life. If you personally haven't gone up in flames, if you can still send and receive mail, if your whole family is still in one piece, then you should consider yourself lucky and thank your country
The most upsetting letter I've gotten comes from someone outside Shanghai. All the documents were provided, a family was forcibly evicted, people were injured, most of the home was ruled illegal structure and not considered for compensation. They went to Beijing, only to have their case sent down to the provincial level, from there back to the municipality, then from there the county and down on to the village. Since then, every time a major holiday comes around, their entire family gets put under surveillance by police to stop them from spoiling the harmonious spirit. In the end they took this to court, where it was actually accepted.
My god, the court actually accepted the case, but don't the courts serve the government? How could they accept to hear this case? I couldn't wait to find out so I flipped through to the next page.
And there I saw it, sure enough the court was quick to make a ruling, taking the original ruling which had ordered the government to pay the victims RMB 200,000 in compensation, and reducing that to RMB 100,000.
With these letters I receive, one of the main reasons I can't make them public is because I haven't verified the stories, and I don't have the ability to do so myself. Though I believe that most of them are truthful, maybe even all of them, or at most have been written with a little creative flair to help make one's case, which doesn't change the larger picture to the story, that being that the bad guys will end up winning. Faced with these letters asking for help, I feel extremely powerless. Of course, they're not asking me to save them, they're just trying every possible avenue they can think of.
For more on Han, consider checking out:
Wandering China, Novelist Han Han:A City Built on a Heap of Money Won’t Shine
Danwei, Han Han on Google leaving China – deleted post