"Public Enemy" Han Han

The following is an interview with writer Han Han after the recent publication of his four essays, which you can find on this website: <On Revolution>, <On Democracy>, <On Wanting Freedom> and <My 2011>.

(Southern Metropolis Weekly

Q: Did you write the three essays in one go?  Is there any logical connection between them?
A: I wrote them in one go, but I took my time before I published them.  I actually finished writing them at the beginning of 2011.  I wanted to publish them in the middle of the year.  But because I was releasing a new book <Youth>, I thought that there may be some reactions about me trying to hype book sales.  After the book was out for more than two months, I could wait no longer because it was going to be 2012 soon.

Q: I spoke to your colleague Ma Yimu recently.  He said that he did not know what you were thinking or doing, but suddenly these three essays appeared.  He thought that this was very mysterious.
A: Many people thought that I had an abrupt change in attitude.  Actually, my attitude has not changed in any way.  Any change is superficial.  I did not change much inside, because I basically detest extremism.  I think any form of extremism is frightening.  In 2010, my attitude was very clear already.  If readers bothered to read my essays carefully, they knew that the so-called change did not occur abruptly.  It has always been inside me.

Q: Did it begin with the essay on Qian Yunhui in early 2011?
A: It was there before the incident, including speaking out on behalf of Sharon Stone, opposing the boycott of French merchandise and Carrefour and so on.  I have always stood on the opposite side of the people.  But the opposite side in those cases was relatively speaking more readily acceptable to the liberals or elites.  Today I may be standing on the opposite of these liberals or relatively radical liberals.  I think all this is quite normal, because I don't want to belong any particular side and be used as a gunner.

Q: Previously you give everybody the impression of being somewhat incisive, but now you seem to be moderate.  Does this change have anything to do with your maturation or becoming a father?
A: I don't think so.  Because I think that when a person becomes a father, he should have even less to fear because he has already completed the mission of leaving behind his genes according to anthropology and biology.  He should be able to do what he needs to do in an even more carefree manner.  What many people think is the expression of my conservatism is actually the expression of my radicalism, because I will offend even more people.  That is radicalism.  But no matter how far I traveled on what they considered to be the radical path, nobody will take action against me as long as I don't go over their bottom line.  That attitude is actually conservative.  Every day, I can scold the ruling party, I can scold the government, I pander to the masses and I lick the stinking feet of the public intellectuals.  But now I have offended many more people, including the rightists, the leftists and the masses.

Q: Many people now classify you as a conservative.
A: Many people think that China is very conservative.  Actually I think that China is very radical.  In the experimentation with various manmade systems, China is more radical than many other nations.  I don't want society to be in an environment of radicalism.  Of course, I love democracy and I love freedom.  I love these things more than anyone else.  But I am skeptical if you say that we can elect a president via universal suffrage overnight or have multi-party rule overnight.  My skepticism makes the liberals unhappy.

Q: How do you view the division of intellectuals into leftists and rightists?
A: Overall, the rightists are better.  The leftists have never done anything good, and they never do anything charitable because they only try to appease their masters.  But the rightists have a lot of flaws.  You can see that the leftists are very united.  They may be moronic, but they are united.  But the rightists are always busily fighting each other.  That is why people say that scholars can never make a revolution.  They may share the same views but if they differ on some microscopic details, they will fight each other to death.  Either you kill me or I kill you.  This is how the rightists fall short.

Q: So where do you stand?
A: Who cares where I am?  Anyway, I am different.  I will say anything I want, because I am not afraid of offending anyone.  It used to be that I only offended leftists.  But right now I am offending certain ultra-rightists and radical rightists.  That is no big deal.  The people stand in the middle, and it does not matter if I offend the people.

Q: In your follow-up essay, you say that you will not try to please anyone except your daughter.
A: Yes, to please my daughter only.  Actually that is a joke.

Q: Did you try to please other people before then?
A: I did.  I had concerns.  Sometimes, you need to check out the discussion forums.  The leftist forums are unreadable, because only stupid people go there.  I go mainly to the more liberal forums.  For the sake of safety in China, I will definitely stand with the groups that have the loudest voices.  I am more famous than they are.  If I say the same things as they do, they will surely think that they have found a spokesperson and they will applaud me -- so awesome, too correct.

Q: You become safe then.
A: Yes, because they hate the authorities and they criticize the government.  But there is nothing basically wrong with that.  In the case of Qian Yunhui, I underwent some changes.  Based upon my assessment of the government and my knowledge about vehicular traffic (including my analysis of the photos) -- even though I greatly respect village chief Qian Yunhui -- I thought that there was an 80% or 90% chance that this was merely a traffic accident.  But the social elites subconsciously excluded that possibility.  Later on, many people began speculating about how the vehicle was traveling.  I thought that they were totally non-expert, because I was more knowledgeable than they were about car skid marks.  At that time, I realized that intellectuals had another shortcoming -- they assumed "guilt" first and then they "deduced" how the crime must have taken place.  This was not being very objective.  This case caused a great change in me.  Therefore I wrote an essay titled <Do we need the truth, or do we need a truth that meets our needs?>.  I thought that the radical rightists needed "a truth that meets their needs" and that made them no different from the government telling lies.  I used to be very happy to be on their side, because I felt that we share the same viewpoints -- we want freedom, we want democracy.  But later on, I discovered that in their quest for freedom and democracy, they are frequently uncompromising, unnegotiable and sometimes even unobjective.

Q: Apart from the case of Qian Yunhui, did anything else affect you?
A: There were similar changes in 2007 and 2008.  At the time, I firmly believed that Chinese society must elect the Chairman by universe suffrage.  All my essays were criticisms of the authorities.  At the same time, I would also express my disappointment with the people.  But that kind of disappointment was hidden deeper down inside those essays.  For example, I said that the biggest obstacle on the road to democracy is the people themselves, and other similar things.  But nobody detected that at the time.

Q: From the concerns that you had at first to having no concerns now, do you think that you have surpassed sectarianism?
A: Yes, I don't care.  Only what I think matters, and I don't care if you call me leftist, rightist or Fifty Cent Gang member.  It does not matter.  But the radical rightists are completely different.  If you say one sentence that they disagree with, they will drop you into the Fifty Cent Gang camp.  This is how stupid intellectuals can be.  They don't know how to unify people.  They can't allow any sand particles in their eyes.

Q: You got kicked multiple times this time.  How does it feel?
A: I don't care.  I won't really be a Fifty Cent Gang who pledges loyalty to the State and the Party.  I will always have my own judgment.  I believe that more and more people will think like I do.  Only then can society be ready for reform, as opposed to the emotional right-versus-left, black-versus-white dichotomy.

Q: The <Global Times> chief editor Hu Xijin and <People's Daily> both praised you publicly.
A: It was wishful thinking on their part, and they have obviously misunderstood.  Only those who have criticized the authorities can criticize the masses.  Without the former, there cannot be the latter.  If you don't criticize the government, you are not qualified to criticize the rightists.  <Global Times> is unqualified.

Q: Your January 8th blog post <My 2011> is your response to the the public reaction to your first three essays?
A: It does not count as a response.  I may write an overall response in the future, because the response itself will be troublesome.  Among those who stand opposite me, they are comparatively more dangerous.

Q: Who are they?  What do you mean by the danger from the opposite side?
A: That is to say, some people will disapprove of me and insist on promoting their universal values.  Of course, I very much agree with some of these viewpoints.  But the problem is that this is relatively more dangerous.  If you obstinately insist on promoting your perfect universal values, it means that the ruling party must be overturned.  This will be somewhat more dangerous for them, getting them into trouble.  Therefore I did not pursue this discussion.  I only expressed my own viewpoints.

Q: At one point will you make an overall response?
A: Actually I don't need to make a big case.  For intellectuals, this is like the card game "Struggle against the landlord."  Everybody wants to fight the landlord.  But the landlord usually holds good cards in his hand, while the intellectuals hold lousy cards.  During the process, the intellectuals compete to play their cards because they felt that the landlord will surely lose and each intellectual wants to be the first to finish the struggle by playing all his cards.  Instead, the intellectuals end up killing each other.  Even before the landlord plays a single card, the intellectuals have already run through their best cards.

Q: You once said that the first two essays were padding, while the last essay was the end goal?
A: If you only write the last essay (including <My 2011>), it will surely be deleted.  When something gets deleted, it has no value.  You can boast on the heroes' honor roll that you wrote another censored essay and that you were victimized once again.  Many rightists rank themselves on the basis of the degree of persecution.  This is a somewhat pathetic ranking.  The ultimate height in sexual intercourse is the climax.  You cannot let someone climax as soon as they read it.   You need your padding.

Q: Did you ever consider that your padding would be even more controversial?
A: Yes, but this was what I really thought inside.  I don't care about how controversial it might be, because I am saying what I think and I am being faithful to my inner self.  Whether you agree, applaud or criticize is unimportant.  And I have improved greatly as a result of the many criticisms.

Q: Which rational criticisms?
A: I won't say that they are criticisms.  I would say that there were some kind of discussion.  Many of the discursive essays were of high quality.  Later I will present those that I think are correct on my blog, so that people can look at the issues more rationally as opposed to being fixated on certain asinine problems (such as questioning whether I had studied enough, or saying that my daughter belongs to an immoral family).  I think that this is risible, too nitpicking, and impossible to conduct any discussions with.  First of all, no matter how much I love my daughter, this is still my own life and you cannot tell me what I should or should not do because I love my daughter.  Those who always spout theories are quite dangerous.  Sometimes the extreme leftists and rightists are quite similar.  The extreme rightists may take a stance because of justice or universal values; the extreme leftists may derive benefits and protection for their stances.  Intellectuals and dictators have many similarities and they have the same flaws which are shared by humankind.  Only moderation, compromise and negotiation -- plus tolerance -- will let these things come and blend together; otherwise these things will always be just a mess.

Q: Your previous essays on various matters were frequently praised.  But these three essays led to divergent opinions.  Some people say that you have disrupted the intellectual sphere. 
A:  Actually this is a problem with the intellectual sphere itself.  "Intellectual" is a good term which should be preserved.  When a country undergoes transformation, the intellectuals and society elites serve major functions.  After the ruling party loses authority and trust, it is up to the intellectuals and society elite to create a good social order.  But nobody wants to admit that they are intellectuals or society elites now, because those two terms have taken on pejorative meanings.
They look down on me, because I did not have advanced education and I am not doing academic research.  Therefore I am unqualified to discuss democracy and freedom.  In theory, I must have read more books than ordinary citizens.  If they look down on me, they must be looking down on ordinary citizens even more so.  Yet they want the people to stand behind them.  Therefore, they are rife with fundamental contradictions.  Even as they speak of democracy and freedom, they forget the spirit of freedom and democracy.  The first thing you need to do is to respect people's lives, but many intellectuals disrespect lives that they dislike.  Secondly, apart from respecting each individual, you must also realize the importance of compromise and negotiation within a democratic system.  If you neither compromise nor negotiate, then you are just using the terms "democracy" and "freedom" as cover and you do not have the spirit of freedom and democracy.  Freedom and democracy can only advance with continual compromise and negotiation.

Q: Apart from the intellectuals, you have also stood on the opposite side of the people this time.  You said that this was a problem about the quality of the citizens.  Were you concerned?
A: Our assumption is that the people are stupid.  In any social transformation, we cannot mobilize the people first.  Once the people get mobilized, things run out of control and some people want to become leaders.

Q: Therefore, you feel that social progress cannot depend on the people but need the elite intellectuals to achieve?
A: Yes.  But the current problem is that the elites and the intellectuals are even stupider than the people.  They have merely read a few books.  They don't even know who the people are or where the people are.  They study the French Revolution, they study the glorious revolutions, they study Czechoslovakia, they study American democracy, but they don't know who the Chinese people are or where they are.  They don't have the patience to hold dialogues with the people of China.
Naturally everybody applauds studying democracy, because it is not wrong and it requires no debate.  Since I represent justice and human universal values, you cannot criticize me.  If you criticize me, you must be a Fifty Cent Gang member.  I become the embodiment of justice and correctness.  Of course, this is a truly meaningful correctness as opposed to the correctness claimed by certain ruling parties.  In truth, I think that this is still divorced from current reality in China.  Universal values should be implemented in accordance with current local conditions.  England implements the English way, America implements the American way and China must implement according to current conditions.  Universal values are not wrong, but we ought to study how to attain them.  During that process, there has to be certain compromises.  You cannot expect the rulers to kill themselves and give all their money to the people in one fell swoop.

Q: Under the existing conditions, what are your bottom lines?
A: My bottom lines are, firstly, opening freedom of speech; secondly, expanding personal rights and protecting society; thirdly, eliminating the so-called crime of subverting the state.  These are the goals that I strive towards.  Fourthly, the Chinese Communist Party needs a better supervisory system against their own corruption.  They need to control the costs due to their corruption.  For example, if you earn 5,000 yuan per month in wages and you spend one or two thousand yuan on a meal.  I think that is alright, because Chinese society can afford it.  We don't need to be as clean as they are in Hong Kong or America.  But you cannot spend several hundred thousand yuan, several tens of millions yuan on meals.  During the process of compromise and negotiation, those are my goals.

Q: You don't have any demands on who the rulers will be in order to attain these things?
A: Yes, I don't care.  You will need a much stronger authority/leader in order to overturn the current regime.  When that time comes, how would I know what kind of leader that might be?  When you have tens of billions of yuan on state resources under your control, might you be even greedier?  My hopes for the rulers arise because I no longer treat this regime as the one that it publicizes itself to be.  I treat the regime as an objectively existing entity -- call it the Communist Party or some other party.  Revolution is actually about regime change.  During the process, there will be a new leader with several decades of social turmoil.  The Chinese people do not like these kinds of social turmoil.  Rather than that, I think that it is better to follow the developments of science and technology and let a new generation grow up and build a society that has rule-of-law and runs smoother.

Q: Have you heard of the "Cult of Han Han"?  They are saying that you are a religion.
A: I am definitely not that.  As my readers read my essays over the years, they will basically learn how to think independently.  They are very different from those cultist fans.  My supporters surely include many people who are relatively not so smart, but I believe that their average degree of rationality should be more than that of the supporters of most public figures.

Q: You will be thirty years old in 2012.  Who do you hope to influence more?
A: It is hard for one person to try to influence another person.  Often times, one is just looking for someone like oneself and people agglomerate together this way.  You want to find someone not because you want someone to influence you.  You want to find someone who can communicate with you more or less, or else it becomes mere adoration.

Q: He Sanwei said that you regard yourself as a youthful teacher who discusses the most important issues of our times.  He thought that you shouldn't talk that way.
A: If I won't talk about them, who will?  Besides, what would you like me to talk about?  Should I discuss a bunch of books?  I can write boring essays that nobody will understand.  These old liberals say that this society is hopeless and desperate, and they form their own small circle.  Some outsider comes in and has views different from theirs.  (Sigh)  They feel that this is uncool.  This is their own shortcoming.  I don't care.

Q: Do you read a lot?
A: Hmm, how shall I say?  I spend three to five hours a day on reading each day.

Q: What do you read?
A: I think reading magazines or browsing on the Internet is one form of reading.  You don't have to hold a copy of the book <On the Spirit of Law> in your hands to say that you are reading.  A person can skip academic books, but he must read various types of information.  At the same time, you must "cover many areas as possible" and that is especially important.  You should do all this, so that you won't fall into extremism.  I began reading all types of books since I was a teenager.  When I take an airplane trip now I will buy a dozen or so magazines.  I read 50,000 to 100,000 words a day.  The more you read, the more you recognize the gaps in your knowledge.  I totally admit that I am the type of person who swirl around in a half bottle of water.  When I was in junior high school, my teacher told me so.  I said, "Teacher, you are completely right.  But their bottle contains eye ointment whereas my bottle is a thermos flask."

Q: Ma Yimu says that you tend to get your ideas through direct personal experience as opposed to absorbing them from academic dissertations.
A: Since 2007, I no longer use literary quotations in my writings.  This does not mean that I am completely ignorant about literary quotations.  When I wrote <The Three Gates> and my earlier essays about the new ideas, I cited dozens of literary quotations, including many from books that I find unreadable.  I thought that this was cool and showed that my essays were sophisticated.  Later on I realized that this was meaningless.  It was very immature to toss quotations around.  I promised myself later that I will not do so again.

Q: Do you communicate with the "relatively moderate rightists" in China now?
A: No.  I don't like to have dinner or meet people, such as those who would want me to overthrow the regime.  They ask immediately, "Overthrow or not?"  I would say, "Oh, let me think about it ..."  There is no way to conduct a conversation when they begin by putting themselves as the righteous side which stands for universal values.  But I think that I have a strong premise here: I want to say that these are good people, but these good people have their flaws.

Q: In your essay, you said that you will fight to realize your rights all the way.  But your essay <On Freedom> is being summarized as "freedom can only be achieved" by begging on your knees.
A: I have always been challenging the edge of freedom of speech, because that space can be expanded only through pushing around the edges.  For a writer, if you don't censor yourself, you are showing your contempt about the censorship.  When nobody in the world censors themselves, censorship is no longer effective.  I have actually been doing that.  In my writing, I am freer than most people.  I don't think that I want the absolute freedom.  But I wonder if the many friends, media workers and movie makers can band together and apply pressure on the rulers.
It is silly to debate whether I am demanding this standing up, kneeling down, or whatever.  For example, suppose I conduct a sit-in: if I go to the Ministry of Culture, you ask why I am not at the Central Department of Publicity; if I go to the Central Department of Publicity, you ask why I am not at Tiananmen Square ... I think that this kind of attitude is most petty and repulsive.  These people don't do anything themselves.  I dislike such "talking salespeople."  "Talking salespeople" often put on the mantle of morality and seize the moral high point.

Q: Many people care more about how you want to realize your literary freedom this coming year.  Are you really going to hold a sit-in?
A: I might.  I have been pented up for a long time.  I can't stand it.  I really can't stand it.  I have a daughter now.  I think that I can do these things now, because I am leaving enough money for my daughter.  Let's wait and see.  Let's see how this situation develops.

Q: There is outside speculation that your essays were penned by Lu Jinbo, and that you are produced and packaged by Lu Jinbo.
A: You clearly don't understand me if you say that everything about me was created by Lu Jinbo.  The magazine <Solo Chorus> was published by Huawen Tianxia, while I have another book published by Shengda Literature.  Neither were Jinbo's products.  If Jinbo created and packaged me, all my books would be published by him.  When I compete away from Shanghai, I sometimes spot a slogan or sentence that is similar to what I wrote ten years ago.  I will call my dad, give him my blog's password and tell him to delete it in order to satisfy myself.  If someone else is writing my essays, I will surely go crazy.
Actually, my essays have their own developmental process.  I started writing at 17 and I am 30 years old now.  It is only normal for changes or improvements to take place.   You cannot ask the 30-year-old me and the 17-year-old me be identical in order to meet your requirement for "consistency."  For someone who just got out of school at 17 and spent the next 13 years outside, I would be a moron if I am still writing like the 17-year-old who had just dropped out of school.