Ignorant, Incompetent and Shameless, Han Han as a Writer

By Huo Long

Huo Long is a translator and blogger in Beijing. Originally posted on his blog on March 12; reposted by permission.

It’s been more than a month since I started following the rivalry between Fang Zhouzi (方舟子, real name: Fang Shimin, 方是民) and Han Han (韩寒). Fang graduated from Michigan State University with a Doctor’s degree in biochemistry. He is a scholar and a popular science writer and is better known for devotion of his spare time to exposing academic and scientific fraudulence in China. Han was a high school dropout. He is widely extolled as a once teenage literary genius, a popular novel writer, an accomplished car racer, and, most recently, an advocate of freedom and democracy. Fang accuses Han of being a fake writer and having most, if not all, of his works ghostwritten.

I wrote a Chinese blog post titled Closing of Han Han’s Ghostwriting-Gate that didn’t pack much punch. In the post, I tried to produce a point-by-point analysis of too many contradictions and inconsistencies found in Han Han. He has long ago demonstrated writing talent as a teenager (as shown in his early award-winning compositions) and a sought-after writer of bestsellers. However, in his video interviews, he showed a surprising ignorance of literary writing, traditions, and even his own works. It later occurred to me that the message of the post I wanted to get across could be as simple as one sentence:

Everyone should rely on their sound logics, common sense and life experience to make sure they are not enchanted or fooled.

And of course, as I later figured out, this message had been intended for people in their right mind, not those who are muddle-headed. For the latter, they won’t listen to anything they are told.

Couples of days later, I made another attempt in vain to create a powerful post. Suffering this “blogger’s block” not uncommon to me, I turned to read other Han Han-bashing articles. Their writers presented their well-thought-out, insightful, and evidence-rich arguments so eloquently and amazingly.

Looking at People through a Glass (杯中窥人) by Han Han at the age of 14 and Three Important Things (三重门) at 17 are already far beyond my current writing capabilities. As if it were not enough, after reading some student composition books on offer in a supermarket, I found that even today’s ten-year-olds write better than me.

I have no intention to complete that unfinished post. So I decide to paste its fragments here for the entertainment of my blog readers:

Is now Han Han dead as a writer?

Answer in Han Han’s casual writing style he used in a Sina Weibo private message to one of his supporters (It’s hard enough for me to mimic Han Han’s untrained and uneducated writing style in Chinese. So I decided to give up trying to do so in English. I’ll just write in normal English, at least as I define it):

Though he as a writer is already stone dead, Han Han as human being is still alive and thrives. His father, Han Renjun (韩仁均) who used to write in the pen name of Han Han before his son was born, is hale and hearty. They are now secretively planning their doomed strategies with which to strike back at Fang Zhouzi and his supporters.

Han Han is a character I cannot possibly fathom. Casting my eye to the rest of the country, I can find no one like him, so divided in personality. This only makes him seem even more mysterious to me.

For that matter, I’m almost as good as Han Han. I taught myself to translate from scratch. Also a drop-out from an occupational school where accounting was taught, I’d just finished junior elementary school. While at the accounting school, I joined a nationally accredited, but not nationally appreciated and often discriminated part-time self-study program (自学考试), and later earned a diploma of English. It is roughly equivalent to a two-year college degree. My ten years of hard work in Beijing paid off. I now have a happy family living in an apartment we call our own. When asked about how she thought of my looks, my wife would say “You’re so very handsome, honey”. About my height, she would say “You must not be taller. If taller, you’d be a perfect man I’m not worthy enough to have you as a husband!” Not being completely convinced, I brought the questions to my son. He simply answered, “en!”, “en!”, “en!”, with which he meant he approved very much of how good I look and how tall I stand. Well, both my wife and son speak so highly of me. So, I have no other choice than to believe their words! … Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that my son was just one-year and three-month-old this February. [Note: With this almost disgusting narcissism also found in Han Han’s book Just Drift Like This (就这么漂来漂去), I’d wanted to quip in later paragraphs: “Some supporters of Han Han are like men or women who are head over heels in love with him and they won’t be able to see his true self; others are like one-year and three-month-old innocent babies who only know it’s fun to stir their fresh pee with dirt and know nothing of what’s bad or good for them.”]

A man called Mai Tian (麦田, or apparently Wheat Field) wrote a blog post entitled Man-made Han Han (人造韩寒). In the post, he accused him of being a fake writer and a product of only commercial packaging, and having his award-winning compositions and bestsellers ghostwritten. Angered by this accusation, Han Han offered CNY 20,000,000 and the future loyalties from his books as a reward to anyone who can prove a line or even a single word was done by people other than Han Han himself. He made clear his seriousness about this offer by writing out all the 7 zeros in the award amount. He was even willing to die before his daughter grew up if any of his works had been ghostwritten, according to one of his blog post which was later edited to exclude this oath. However, in an interview with Hunan Satellite TV that followed hot on the heels of his prize offer, Han Han, who dressed himself like a trend-setting actor with a scarf around his neck and wore a charming smile, said calmly: “The award I offered was a joke. [I didn’t have any better idea than that offer. I wanted to show how angry I was about being accused of having my works ghostwritten]. I cannot possibly prove I don’t have a team [to ghostwrite for me].” (“我又没有办法证明我没有团队,所以才开玩笑的,拿出了这个悬赏。“)

Han Han’s inability of keeping his promise did not stop there. The award caught the attention of Fang Zhouzi. He then read through Han’s early, recent and new books, as well as a biography “My Son Han Han” (我的儿子韩寒) by the older Mr. Han, and watched absorbedly Han’s video interviews. By doing so, he did find clues that made him believe some of Han’s articles and books were ghostwritten. He then posted his findings and textual analyses on his Sina blog. However, Han Han again found this infuriating. He accused Fang of “libeling” and brought his grievance to a court in the Putuo District, Shanghai against Fang and another man named Liu Mingze (刘明泽). No one seemed to know who this faceless Mr. Liu was – Mai Tian is not surnamed LIU. It later turned out that Han Han’s “extra-luxury” lawyers’ team sued that poor Shanghai-based Mr. Liu because they wanted the court to have jurisdiction over the case. To achieve that end, one defendant had to be domiciled in Shanghai. His lawyers’ team makes being an innocent onlooker a very dangerous thing: Just because Liu was in Shanghai, of all the people against Han Han in the controversy, he was chosen to be a privileged defendant in a libel case doomed to be so high-profile. [Han later dropped the case against Liu.]

This can be likened to an imagined challenge invitation in the colonial days of Shanghai. Han Han, who was a much acclaimed and self-styled kungfu master, invites Fang Zhouzi, a taiji boxer who questions Han’s worthiness as a kungfu fighter, to a contest in which Han wanted to show his power. Then the much anticipated duel started with a fanfare. In the first round, Fang soon confirmed his suspicion by finding Han’s lack of strong kick power. Without meeting any effective resistance, Fang casually took advantage of one of Han’s many weaknesses and swept Han off his feet. Han hit head-first against the ground and suffered a bleeding head. The referee whistled and the first round ended. Han complained to his father, “Dad, we provoked the wrong man. He’s not to be intimidated. I’d thought he’d back down. I cannot possibly defeat him!” The older Mr. Han had a better idea, “Sweet. Don’t panic. If you cannot win him in the duel, just don’t go back to it. We can report him to the Shanghai International Police and accuse him of physically assaulting you in the duel!”

….

Some people cannot figure out why Han Han would want to bring the case to a Chinese court. “Hadn’t he criticized the Chinese court system as a mockery of justice?” “That’s exactly the reason why he wanted his case tried there.”

If you’re not interested at all in the argument over these seemingly trivialities, or just don’t like the way in which Fang Zhouzi seems so intent to do injustice to an innocent man.

Think twice. Is this that trivial or simple?

An ignorant and incompetent writer, Han Han has gone so far as to be admired as a talented adolescent, a bestseller writer, an advocate of democracy and freedom, a social and government critic, and a public intellectual (公知, yet another stigmatized Chinese term after 小姐, Miss, young lady, which now often means a prostitute; and 同志, comrade, which now can mean gay men.). His ascent reflects the distorted values of the present-day Chinese society, in which fake, attractively packaged and effectively promoted, sells well as the real McCoy to the unsuspecting consumer.

The ongoing rivalry between the two sides is very much like the elections on Taiwan. Almost half of its voters support the Democratic Progress Party (DPP), as corrupt and deceitful as it use to be, simply because they don’t want the Kuomintang in power. The problem for Han Han now is: Can he also reinvent himself like the DPP has done and prove his worthiness?

The Chinese people always admire the Germans for their strictness and rigorousness in their work, the Japanese for their great attention to details in their manufacturing, and the Americans for their love of freedom and democracy in their politics. However, when it comes to the crunch, some of the Chinese refuse to do what their role models have done. In a split personality, they only drift along in their work, are not ashamed of the jobs they’ve botched up, or take sides in disputes only by judging what’s good for them, instead of what’s right or wrong.

Essentially a contradictory, impossible presence, Han Han can only be true if he meets two criteria: a) he’s a genius; and b) he’s an average man. However, these two are mutually exclusive. If one is true, then the other is false, or vice versa.

For example, in the Three Important Things he supposedly began writing as a 16-year-old and finished a year later, the books and people he cited and made reference to include, according to an incomplete list compiled by an unidentified source:

-Books:

Guanzuibian (管锥编), a study journal in which QIAN Zhongshu annotated ancient Chinese books; Huainanzi (淮南子), a collection of Taoist writing in the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 25 A.D.); Shangshu (尚书), a collection of imperial archives before China’s first unified Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.-206 B.C.); Wanli Yehuobian (万历野获编), a compilation in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644); 康河里的诗灵, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; 《西学与晚清思想的裂变》, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Quintus Horatius Flaccus (贺拉斯), a Roman poet and critic (65 B.C. – 8 B.C.); 流浪的人生, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Eight Travel Records of Yongzhou (永州八记), including The Travel Record of the Little Stone Lake (至小丘西小石潭记), written by LIU Zongyuan (柳宗元, 773 – 819); The Analects of Confucius (论语), a Confucius classic; The School of Huitong Says So (会通派如是说), by WU Mi (吴宓, 1894-1978); From Chaos to Order (从混浊到有序), Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Formal Logics (形式逻辑学), Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Stories of Searching for Gods and Spirits (搜神记), attributed to GAN Bao (干宝, Eastern Jin (317-420)) but mostly modified in later generations; Everlasting Regret (长恨歌), a love poem about Tang Emperor Xuanzong and Imperial Concubine Yang by BAI Juyi (白居易, 772 – 846); 本 • 琼森与德拉蒙德的谈话录, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; 心理结构及其心灵状态, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; On the Death of David Hume (论大卫•休谟的死), David Hume (1711-1776), a British philosopher, historian and economist; Madame Bovary (包法利夫人), by Gustave Flaubert ( French writer, 1821 – 1880); A Chronicle of Zuo (左传), a Confucius classic during China’s Warring States (403 BC – 221 BC); 铁轨边的风, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; 教学园地, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Flowers in the Mirror (镜花缘), a novel written by LI Ruzhen (李汝珍, 1763-1830); 佳人, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; 美女赋, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; 江南的水, Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Guangyang Zaji (广阳杂记), by LIU Xianting (刘献廷, 1648 – 1695); Being Digital (数字化生存), by Nicholas Negroponte (1943 – ) in 1995; Xianqing Ouji (闲情偶寄), by LI Yu (李渔, 1611 – 1680); Chushibiao (出师表) by ZHUGE Liang (诸葛亮, 181 – 234); Three Character Classic (三字经), a traditional Chinese primer book; 李敖快意恩仇录 by LEE Ao (李敖, 1935-), a mainland-born Taiwanese writer; Shehualu (舌华录), a collection of witty remarks by CAO Chen (曹臣) in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644); Romance of the Western Chamber (西厢记) by WANG Shifu (王实甫, ca. 1260 – 1336); Chinese Literature History (中国文学史), Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; A Dream in Red Mansions (红楼梦) written in the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911); All Men Are Brothers (水浒传) by SHI Naian (施耐庵, 1296-1371); Four Generations Under One Roof (四世同堂) by Lao She (老舍, 1899 -1966); Shiji (史记) by SIMA Qian (司马迁, ca. 145 BC – 90 BC); Zhanguoce (战国策) by LIU Xiang (ca. 77 BC – 6 BC); Master Sun’s Art of War (孙子兵法) by SUN Wu (孙武, birth and death dates unknown, a contemporary of Confucius); Shuowen Jiezi (说文解字) by XU Shen (许慎, ca. 58 – 147); The Metamorphoses (变形记) by Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – AD 17/18); A Biography of Chinese Writers (中国作家传), Google yields no immediately relevant or definite search findings in the first few pages; Mencius (孟子), a Confucius classic by Mencius (372 BC – 289 BC); Journey to the West (西游记) by WU Chengen (吴承恩, 1501 – 1582); Liaozhai Zhiyi (聊斋志异) by PU Songling (蒲松龄, 1640 – 1715); Boule de Suif (羊脂球) by French writer Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893); QIAN Zhongshu Who Has Walked Out of the Magic Mirror (走出魔镜的钱钟书), a biography of Qian by WANG Yinfeng (王吟凤) in 1999; The Carnal Prayer Mat (肉蒲团) by LI Yu (李渔, 1611 – 1680); and Liezi (列子), a Taoist classic.

-People:

Oscar Wilde; Martin Heidegger; Auguste François Xavier Comte; Franz Kafka; Gregor Samsa; Zhu Tao-sheng (竺道生), a Chinese Buddhist thinker; LI Liangping (栗良平), a modern Chinese writer; Émile Zola; Guy de Maupassant; Gustave Flaubert; ZHANG Junou (张俊欧), not found in Google search; ZHU Guangqian (朱光潜), a modern Chinese scholar; Denis Diderot; Ortega; van der Sar; Socrates; Athena; DAI Wangshu (戴望舒, a modern Chinese poet); Takashi Kashiwabara (柏原崇), a Japanese actor; Yosuke Eguchi (江口洋介), a Japanese actress; TANG Yin (唐寅, also known as 唐伯虎 in Chinese), an ancient Chinese painter; CAO Juren (曹聚仁), a modern Chinese writer; LI Yu (李渔), an ancient Chinese writer; DU Mu (杜牧), an ancient Chinese poet; LU Xun (鲁迅), a modern Chinese writer; CAO Zhi (曹植), an ancient Chinese figure; DU Fu (杜甫), an ancient Chinese poet; Laotze (老子), the founder of Taoism; QIAN Zhongshu (钱钟书), a modern Chinese scholar and writer; WU Mi (吴宓), a modern Chinese scholar; George Yeh (叶公超), a modern Chinese diplomat; LEE Ao (李敖), a modern Chinese writer on Taiwan; Hu Shih (胡适), a modern Chinese scholar and liberal; Han Feizi (韩非子), an ancient Chinese thinker; HsunTzu (荀子), an ancient Chinese thinker; Zhuangzi (庄子), an ancient Chinese thinker; Xu Zhimo (徐志摩), a modern Chinese writer; LIU Yong (柳永), an ancient Chinese poet; Mao Zedong (毛泽东), a modern Chinese politician; SONG Yu (宋玉), an ancient Chinese poet; HAN Yu (韩愈), an ancient Chinese poet; LIU Zongyuan (柳宗元), an ancient Chinese writer; LIU Yong (刘墉), a Taiwanese writer; Mozi (墨子), an ancient Chinese thinker; LIN Huiyin (林徽因), a modern Chinese writer; CHEN Yanque (陈寅格), a modern Chinese scholar; Paul-Marie Veriaine; Li Yu (李煜), an ancient Chinese poet and emperor; Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsch; GUO Moruo (郭沫若), a modern Chinese writer and politician; Benito Mussolini; Arthur Schopenhauer; Filippo Tommaso Marinetti; Napoleon; Hitler; Madame Curie; James Watt; Thomas Edison; ZHANG Haidi (张海迪), a modern Chinese writer; Confucius; LIANG Shiqiu (梁实秋), a Chinese writer on Taiwan; LIU Yazi (柳亚子), a modern Chinese poet; Montesquieu; ZEN Guofan (曾国藩), a late Qing Dynasty (1616-1911) politician; LI Baichuan (李百川), an ancient Chinese writer; Kong Xiangxi (孔祥熙), a modern Chinese politician; Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后), a late Qing Dynasty ruler; XIAO Fuxing (肖复兴), a modern Chinese writer; Nikita Khrushchev; William Shakespeare; JIANG Qing (江青), Mao Zedong’s wife and Chinese politician; Romain Rolland; SU Shi (苏东坡), an ancient Chinese poet; YANG Wanli (杨万里), an ancient Chinese poet; and SHAO Jiaxuan (邵稼轩), an ancient Chinese man.

He managed to write this complex long novel with only slips of the pen the needed correction. At such a young age, he could make references to the books and the people and integrate their elements in the creation of the novel. His manuscripts are as clean as transcripts, as shown in a photo of his “manuscripts” he posted in his blog trying to convince the public he was indeed the creator of the novel.

Han is no doubt a genius as it comes to writing. However, to the great surprise of the least literarily minded, such a well-read genius admitted repeatedly and strongly in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV that he has never read A Dream in Red Mansions (红楼梦). However, in his novel Three Important Things, he made reference to the Chinese novel classic in at least three brilliantly written paragraphs. In the novel, he has also demonstrated great knowledge of and familiarity with things and witty talks even in his father’s generation. Moreover, in the interview, he said to the effect that “There is no such a thing as a classic book; it’s only an average book that has later become classics after much reading by generations of people who had nothing better to read”.

Furthermore, he couldn’t even distinguish between an embassy and a consulate. In a blog post about Wang Lijun (王立军), Han referred to the U.S. consulate as the “US Embassy in Chengdu[, Sichuan province]”.

Additionally, he committed a laughable anachronism in a TV interview. He accused Fang Zhouzi’s tactics of “being like those of Yao Wenyuan (姚文元)” (1931-2005), who, according to Han, locked up his comrades in dark rooms in the Yan’an Rectification Movement (延安整风, 1942-1944, a purge that reportedly claimed the lives of 10,000 Communists).

It’s hard to believe that the Han Han featured in the video interviews is truly the one who has personally written all his award-winning student compositions and early books.

According to Han Han, a “little notebook” helped him write the intelligent and almost pedant books as a very young high school dropout. But he claimed that he later lost such capabilities. In the notebook he kept all the quotes and references he used in his book. This makes me wonder whether the booklet was a synthetic steroid, Viagra, or the helping hand of God: Why couldn’t Han Han perform the functions as a skilled writer in the absence of a compilation of mysterious notes?

What else Han Han said in video interviews:

As shown by these revealing video interviews, Han’s actually an “honest” man who often speaks his mind unwittingly. It must be his father or someone else who chose for Han a path that leads to his today’s fame and fortune he doesn’t deserve.

http://player.ku6.com/refer/EWDbjFLp98Z1yxVM/v.swf

In the above Sina interview, he showed his unfamiliarity with a book he wrote recently. He reacted with surprise, saying (12’26”) that he “didn’t weep”, when answering a question the hostess asked for the audience, “In your book you wept because of a loss you suffered in racing… Have you ever wept because of a racing loss?”

http://www.tudou.com/v/r7SHKhe0cT8/&resourceId=0_05_05_17/v.swf

In a interview with Netease in 2005, Han Han personally confirmed that a paragraph conspicuously advertised in the book covers and chapter introduction of Just Drift Like This (就这么漂来漂去) was not written by him. When asked about what he thought of the paragraph, a quite surprised Han said (16′ 12″), “[…] I didn’t know where my editor got the words and put them there. It’s not written by me. It’s totally not written by me. They are particularly not my words. […]” Han last month argued in a separate interview that he “did write those words”, but he “did not agree with them”.

http://www.tudou.com/v/kbJPWiBydvA/&resourceId=0_05_05_17/v.swf

In the video, in his broken, hesitating, off-topic, and sometimes rambling language, he said to the effect that,

“I don’t love writing at all. Neither do I like being called a writer. I write only because I have to. To me, writing is a job I have to do and is something that brings me the money I need.”

My comment: Writing is what makes Han Han. And yet he doesn’t like it. He only talks about writing like a high school dropout who can’t seem to understand why he’s now a writer.

“How well a writer writes depends on what books he or she has read in the past.”

My comment: In other interviews, he said that reading books by others is not necessary for the writers and they can always rely on information they get on their own and then builds it into his books.

“All books are created equal. There is no such a thing as one being better than the other in terms of the thought they can provoke. The priority of a book is not the message, big or small, its writer wants to convey, but the feelings it can arouse in the reader.”

My comment: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had been outstanding students when they decided to leave school. However, Han Han was mighty different. He was virtually kicked out of high school because of his extremely poor academic performance (seven subjects failed, including Chinese). His words can be translated as follows: Though I was kicked out of high school because of poor school scores, I’m as good as or better than those who have attended college or university because I’m now nonetheless just as rich, famous, and successful.

As I see it, the essence, or the message, of a book is more important than its other aspects. Great books can be read by generations of thinking readers who are willing to read them several times. Han’s ideal books are for people who prefer sensual pleasures and don’t want to use their brain too much while reading.

“I don’t like the pretentious or affected way of writing. Writers should be themselves and write directly what they actually feel and think.”

My comment: He says so simply because he doesn’t know how to write like a real writer. To him, putting words on paper itself is writer’s writing. If this was the case, an illiterate person could dictate a long epic.

“My books are not perfect. There are lots of loopholes I intentionally left there to be found.”

My comment: This is very true indeed. His biggest loophole is that some of this books published under his name were not written by him.

“I don’t know what Confucianism is. I don’t know what it or other traditional Chinese isms are about. I’ve even never read A Dream in Red Mansions (红楼梦). I don’t know who is who in the novel.”

My comment: He knows nothing about them. So his ghostwriters helped him incorporate those isms and classics into the works published under his name.

“I spend thousands of yuan each month in buying newspapers and read them.”

My comment: Calculated at 2,000 yuan, 2 yuan per copy of newspaper, and 12 pages per copy, that would be 12,000 pages. Then, he would have no time for writing, racing or womanizing.

“I like the books by writers active after the May 4th, 1919 Movement because of their particular attention to writing elegant and charming Chinese.”

My comment: The period leading to and several decades after May 4th, 1919 Movement was a transition of written Chinese from Classic to Vernacular. It’s a period of experiments and nothing was perfect. Though the new ideas introduced in the early Vernacular Chinese from abroad were transforming, the language itself was anything but elegant or charming.

“If I don’t like a writer, I won’t like his works.”

My comment: So Han can refuse to eat the egg simply because he doesn’t like the hen.

“I don’t know the intention with which I write my books.”

My comment: Because it’s not he who wrote them and he has never carefully read them.

“As a writer, I don’t need to read novels by others. What I need is information. I have my own brain and I know what novel I want to write. I don’t need to read novels by others to get some inspirations about how I can better write my novels.”

My comment: As a genius, he never needs to learn from others. And yet as an average boy, he must read books by others so that he can write.

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