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A Book Review by Jonathan Mirsky

November 21, 2012

This Generation: Dispatches from
China’s Most Popular Blogger
(and Race Car Driver)

Han Han
Edited and Translated by Allan H. Barr
Simon and Schuster
Hardcover: October 9, 2012, 288 pages

What if every Chinese who committed the crime of paying a prostitute for sex were sentenced to six months in prison? Immediately, “. . . the vast majority of male authors, businessmen, singers, actors, athletes, directors, and officials are out of circulation . . . . Of the eighty million Communist Party members there will be only 20,080,000 left, and of those, all but 80,000 will be women. . . . there will be no [TV] programs . . . and practically all the men on the Forbes list of millionaires will have disappeared . . . . Worst of all you won’t be able to find your dad.”1

Considering those words, and there are many equally daring passages in this vibrant collection, I’m amazed that Han Han, China’s most successful blogger by many millions, is not sharing a cell with Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. He’s certainly just as subversive—but perhaps even more so, in the sense that he has vastly more readers, is wildly funny, and nothing, from the Communist Party of China to official corruption to national hysteria about perceived foreign slights, escapes his scalpel. He contends that if given the chance, 80 percent of those Chinese abusing the West would be “off like a shot to be reborn in America. . . .”2 What may have saved him so far is that he is a Lone Ranger; no group has gathered around him to act politically. Or maybe he is so popular that even the Party—so far anyway—has not dared to crush him, although numbers of his blogs have been extinguished. As Han Han points out, the Internet patrols are so efficient that—can he have made this up?—“one can’t find the Tang poet Li Bai on Google because his name infringes on the name of a Politburo Standing Committee member . . . .”3

In her insightful chapter in the forthcoming Restless China, [Perry Link, Richard Madsen and Paul G. Pickowicz, eds; Rowman and Littlefield, 2013], Yang Lijun observes of Han Han, that “. . . censors—who were now paying him a good deal of attention . . . had to worry that obvious repression of a popular figure would make them look bad to millions of people in China and even to some people overseas.”

Born in 1982, Han Han is very handsome, failed dismally in school, published a multi-million reader novel, Triple Door (三重门),when he was eighteen and still flunking, and is an international racing car driver. His blogs began in 2005 and most of the ones here were gathered into a collection published in Taiwan.

No neuralgic subject is taboo. Take Tibet and the Dalai Lama. In 2008, after the Sichuan earthquake, the actress Sharon Stone said this disaster was karma because of the way Beijing treats Tibetans, and mentioned that she and the Dalai Lama were friends. She soon apologized. Her apology was ignored by a torrent of calls for her to be blacklisted—as Japanese goods are right now because of the dispute over the Senkaku (or Diaoyutai) Islands in the East China Sea. Han Han promptly touches, as Mao used to say, “the tiger’s backside.” “The Dalai Lama has a lot of friends . . . and the most ideal thing—and what would be best for our country—is that the Dalai Lama becomes our friend, so that Tibet could be stable and at peace.”4 Reaching for another tiger, Han Han observes that criticism of Sharon Stone “is far more extreme than our criticism of the people behind the shoddily built schools and hospitals that collapsed in the earthquake. . . .We can endure the suffering caused by natural disasters and . . . man-made disasters, but what we cannot countenance is foreigners criticizing us.”5

I don’t want to preempt your pleasure as you watch Han Han toy with the tiger—and Allan H. Barr’ s witty translations never fail to keep up—but I can’t resist what he has to say about the biggest beast in the Chinese jungle: the CPC. “. . . your restrictions on culture simply mean that it is next to impossible to produce literature and cinema that will have any influence in the world. Chinese authors and directors alike are reduced to a state of perpetual embarrassment. China’s media, likewise, has no global impact . . . . if there’s no improvement after two or three years, then I will personally make an appearance at every Congress of the Writers’ Association . . . and register my protest.”6 This is fascinating; apart from car racing, Han Han rarely appears in public.  “I know this is a bit like an ant trying to shake a tree, but given the little power I have, that’s as much as I can hope to do.”7 But is Han Han’s power so little? According to Yang Lijun, “As of June 3, 2012, his blog on Sina net [the Chinese microblogging website] had attracted nearly 570 million visits, a national record, and since the end of 2009, his postings have averaged more than one million readers.” I recall the shouts in Tiananmen Square in 1989, “One million people, one million kitchen cleavers.”

Jonathan Mirsky (梅兆赞) is a historian and journalist specializing in Chinese affairs. In 1990, he was named British International Reporter of the Year for his coverage of the 1989 Democracy Movement in China. Until 1998, he was the East Asia editor of The Times of London.


1. Han Han, This Generation: Dispatches from China’s
Most Popular Blogger (and Race Car Driver)
, ed. and trans. Allan H. Barr (New York: Simon and Schuster), 86.^

2.  Ibid., 29.^

3. Ibid., 224.^

4. Ibid., 50.^

5. Ibid., 51.^

6. Ibid., 246.^

7. Ibid., 246.^