Friday, April 9, 2010

Han Han and Time's 100 Competition

Best on-line fun of the month: watching Han Han's climbing rank in Time's list of the "100 most influential people in the world" nominees. When I first noticed it, Han Han was 12th; two days ago he was 7th; today 5th.

Meanwhile in China, the People’s Daily website,, reported this news with the headline "Han Han Included in World’s Influential People: Time Magazine Deeply Nearsighted?" In addition to the negative angle shown in the headline, the site holds two "small polls" (I've included the results so far):

  1. "Do you like Han Han? Why?"
Like him because of his blog and books (64%)
Like him because of his intelligent and seasoned personality (13.4%)
Like him because of his unusual personal experience and appearance (4.6%)
Don't like this person (14.6%)
Can’t say clearly (3.3%)

  1. "Do you think Han Han can represent China?"
Absolutely can't represent (34.4%)
Can only partially represent (58.8%)
Unclear (6.8%)

While the first question is sort of interesting, the second is a complete hack. First of all, Time's competition is not for the "most representative" people of a country. Second, the poll asks a positive question, then positions the most negative answer at the top. Further, such muddling of the issue of "representing a country" shows an inability to distinguish the identity of a person from that of a country; apparently the communist tradition of mixing the two still occupies some minds.  

Also strange is that, since the poll includes the extreme option "absolutely can't," shouldn’t it also include the other extreme "absolutely can" for completeness and symmetry? Plus, the word "only" in "Can only partially represent" is redundant unless its intention is to emphasize the negative biases against Han Han. If a poll is set to be biased, is it really a poll?

All that said, I'm not completely sure such negativity was the editors' true intention. It could also be a strategy. As far as I can see, since this report from, Han Han's votes on have increased rapidly. The poll results on also show that public opinion strongly opposes the editors' negative diction. So the question boils down to whether the editors there are smarter or stupider than we think: It is certainly a clever thing to do if they made the report and polls appear negative in order to pass censoring, while expecting the public to react differently. Otherwise, the unintended results have made fools of them.

Another article I found entertaining: "Han Han is hardly a hero of our times" from (h/t ESWN). I thought the aim of a commentary should be to convince. Failing that, at least one should avoid contradicting oneself, right? Now hear this: "It strikes me as naive that being critical of the Chinese government should be the major, if not sole, criterion for making Time’s list..." Didn’t he see the Chinese government officials Bo Xilai and Wang Qishan on the same list? What is “the major, if not sole criterion” for them to make the list then?

While I do view Han Han as "a hero of our times," such a view is subjective and not a basis for meaningful argument. The commentary’s author, however, confuses the more measurable concept of "influential" with the largely subjective notion of "heroic,"  and his criticism of Time's "wrong" choice might have stemmed from another typical communist principle of "one standard for all." Well, Time is not a communist magazine that takes setting heroic examples as its mandate; as such applying a "hero" selection standard to its influential people list is like "donkey lips not matching horse jaws," as we Chinese like to say. "Influential" is not a moral term. There is nothing in the definition of "influential" that excludes a person whose influence is viewed as "good" by some and "bad" by others. The fact that Time's list has Chinese government officials Bo and Wang sharing space with Han Han (who's critical of the government) and an imprisoned dissident, Liu Xiaobo, certainly illustrates this point.

It is even more aimless for the author to suggest that Time replace Han Han with "Tang Fuzhen, a 47-year-old in Chengdu who died after setting herself on fire in November of last year to protest the forcible demolition of her home.” I wonder, if Time did include Tang in the list, how many votes she would get, given how few people know her name? And if she did not get many votes, wouldn't the ShanghaiDaily author become even more outraged with Time?

I must say that I'm not a big fan of Time, and I usually don't care about its 100 competitions. My main point here is that a journalist who opposes something should have a clear aim, and at least some knowledge of the target before shooting his bullets.  I guess being honest is the most essential quality for a journalist. Without it, one's words can easily become a laughing stock.

Personally, I'm very happy to see the ever rising votes for Han Han. For one thing, and an important one at that, based on my reading Han Han is a way more honest person and definitely a way better writer than most Chinese journalists. Not only is he bravely candid and sharp, he also makes sense, and has good humor. And he cares. He cares about social justice. Reading his blog posts often makes me feel 痛快 (to be honest I don't know how to translate this expression precisely and satisfactorily), a nice feeling I don't often have reading the writing of others.

As to why Liu Xiaobo's votes lag behind Han Han's, again it has to do with the extent of influence. Liu Xiaobo may be a deeper thinker, but for various reasons his influence has not spread to ordinary people of different ages and classes as extensively as Han Han’s. While Lui Xiaobo may be a hero to intellectuals, Han Han is a hero to ordinary people. And to say Han Han is one of the most influential people is no exaggeration. Really amazing, considering that he is only 27 years old, without even a high school diploma.


kailing said...

Well, I think the 50 cents (raise it to 75 for this battle) band should start working giving votes to uncle Wen. Then there will be no problem; Time magazine will be heralded by Chinese press as an icon of harmony, understanding and acute perception of China's peaceful rise.

Anonymous said...

The government hired journalists have been at a loss toward this post-80s writer-blogger. So they just don't know what they are writing about. And the propaganda officials don't know how to deal with this young man right now, either.

transliterationisms said...

痛快 - the word in colloquial english you are looking for is most likely just plain old 'good' or 'great'. Of course you could try '(really/truly) satisfied', 'content', or 'wonderful'. With proper introduction/context, I think 'good' or 'great' is really what you are looking for.