Or they might simply ask, "What do you think of theworld's
most widely read blogger?." Though
across-the-web comparisons are probably impossible, the 29-year-old Han Han's
blog attracts about a million views per post and half a billion visitors so
far, leading media outlets to occasionally refer to him as the
world's most popular blogger.
But Han Han is a big deal in China -- and among many China
scholars and journalists in the West -- and there's no mystery as to why. He
has a large and loyal following among young Chinese, something the three
dissidents I listed, as admirable as they are, haven't attained. And he
has consistently been at or near the center of some of the liveliest debates
taking place on the Chinese Internet, the closest thing to a public sphere that
exists on the mainland.
Some of Han Han's online essays, which tend to be reposted to
other sites by fans eager to ensure his words won't disappear if the censors
move in, offer straightforward criticisms of corrupt officials. Others
lambast ultra-nationalist youths he thinks have been mindlessly lashing out
against foreigners. Still others are more enigmatic. When Liu won the
Nobel, for instance, Han Han just put up quotation marks with no words,
suggesting that he wanted to weigh in on this subject, but knew that anything
he said in support of Liu would be deleted instantly by the Internet police.
But Han has made clear that he's no dissident. His trio of much-discussed
2011 posts -- devoted in turn to "revolution," "democracy," and "freedom" -- argued
that China isn't heading toward a democratic revolution, nor should it. He even
pokes fun at Chinese writers who seem to imagine that they could someday emulate
the Czech dissident-cum-revolutionary Vaclav Havel. Ai Weiwei scoffed in
response, "It would be a good piece for [state-run newspaper] Global Times to publish."
In yet other posts, he eschews politics completely, sometimes
with comic turns that can veer toward the juvenile. In one post, he mused
on how hard it was to form an opinion of Haibao, the Gumby-like official mascot
for the 2010 Shanghai Expo, when all the images of it only showed its front,
leaving it impossible to know what its rear end looked like. And yet, his
mid-2011 lament for the victims of last year's high-speed train crash near
Wenzhou, "A Nation Derailed," scathingly criticized the government for callously
disregarding safety and for refusing to admit its mistake -- two recurring
themes in Han Han posts.
How is it that someone so significant and interesting remains
largely unknown outside of China? It can't be because no one has written
about him. Back in 2009, Simon Elegant profiled him for Time. In
2010, Foreign Policy included him in its list of
100 top global thinkers and Perry Link celebrated his "Aesopian wit"
in an International Herald Tribune op-ed. Last
year, the New Yorker ran an excellent piece on him by Evan
Osnos cleverly titled "The Han Dynasty,"
and Fast Company called him one of the 100 most
creative people in business. This year he's been the subject of an unusually engaging "Lunch with the
FT" feature by David Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times,
and was discussed in Jacob Weisberg's Slate essay on Internet
censorship in China. And so on.