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February 7, 2010

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Popular rebel without a cause shuns the 'right way'

WHEN racing driver Han Han flipped the bird at judges after receiving a penalty during the China Touring Car Championship last June, many asked if he had taken his tendency for controversy a step too far.

But he followed up on his blog, lambasting the Federation of Automobile Sports as "unprofessional" in enforcing rules and criticizing it for failing to impose penalties for prohibited pre-rally road surveys.

Asked whether he considered the influence of his obscene gesture on society, Han responded with typical sarcasm: "The only group that might be affected is the children, but I believe that with the protection of 'Green Dam' (filtering software designed to block violence and pornographic content on the Internet), they won't be hurt."

It was the sort of hard-hitting criticism that has made the 27-year-old the most popular blogger in China - and seen him hailed as the voice of his generation.

Han's blog is known for attacking the establishment, and his opinions often make headlines.

His thoughts on the fire that destroyed a new tower block owned by state broadcaster China Central Television last February were copied and passed on thousands of times soon after they were posted on the Internet.

In the post, he voiced the frustrations of his generation: "The government needs to think about a serious issue: its mouthpieces have damaged the image of their master, when they operate under the current mechanism," he said.

"Even a truthful story could appear fake when reported by them. The younger generation has been maturing and they will ridicule what these state-owned media agencies produce more and more ... No wonder they (the media) are being left behind by the times."

He also pointed to the reasons for his own popularity: "This is an era in which you can not convince people unless you have virtue."

In late May 2008, when American actress Sharon Stone triggered outrage in China by saying the Sichuan earthquake was "interesting" and "karma," Han argued that Stone's original meaning was distorted by the media.

He put the full quote and direct translation in his blog, saying Stone was telling the reporter the process of her thoughts, but the media had quoted her out of context.

Three days later, he posted a 3,000-word article "Don't show the fury of the whole nation," advising the public to ease their nationalist ardor.

"A sentence of a passe foreign star who was misquoted by the media made us show our savage side," he wrote, referring to postings calling for her to be "killed" or otherwise harmed.

"If we think about what we've said after natural disasters in other countries, we will find we are far from real humanitarians. If you still don't reflect on the past, you are not as good as Stone. She at least knew to reflect on herself," read the post.

He also said the Chinese should be focusing on more important matters, such as the schools that collapsed in the quake.

For this he was branded an "idiot," "cold-blooded" and "unpatriotic" on Chinese Websites.

In fact, he had gone to Sichuan right after the quake to distribute relief materials donated by himself and his friends, but he cautiously avoided the cameras so as not to be branded a "show-off" too.

However, Lu Jinbo, Han's publisher, and Liang Wendao, a commentator with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, agree that Han could be the next Lu Xun, arguably the most famous modern Chinese writer, who was acclaimed for his vehemently critical essays.

Han's debut novel, "Triple Gate," published in 2000, is about a high school student's campus life. In it, he attacks the education system by comparing the teachers who do home-schooling with prostitutes: "Teachers are not popular, but home-schooling is. From that, we can see that teaching is like dating. One to many is cheap, but one to one is precious - almost the same price per hour as a prostitute. However, a teacher is much more competent than a prostitute. The prostitute makes money by giving joy to the other, while a teacher achieves it through giving agony."

This provocative criticism has sent at least five of his books into the best-seller lists.

One reader of "Triple Gate" wrote to say, "Han Han you're great! You've just said what I want to say."

"Then why didn't you say it?" he responded.

Guangzhou-based New Weekly magazine said in late 2008 that Han lived up to the duties and responsibilities of a public intellectual. "His rational thinking makes us hopeful for the 1980s generation," it said, referring to the generation of mostly single children, who are famously considered self-centered and lacking social responsibility.

However, Han rejects the position, saying he just enjoys speaking out.

He even kind of enjoys the fact that many don't share his views. "When I just started in car-racing, I thought the slow drivers were foolish, but later I changed my mind - without them, how could I stand out?"

He has followed his own passions, taking up motor-racing to the confusion of many who believed he had a promising future in writing.

They claimed he just wanted to show off his wealth, or just wanted some excitement like many young men with excessive testosterone.

At first, Han spent his own money on training and buying cars. Then he was contracted to a professional team. And then he astonished the public by winning the 2007 China Circuit Championship.

"My success comes from my judgement, which is my gift. Some people will never know what they are really capable of. They just waste their lives in something that they are not good at," he said.

Growing up in a small township in the suburbs of Shanghai, Han had a carefree childhood. His mother and father, unlike many Chinese parents who push their children to succeed, were relaxed about his schoolwork and studies.

He found a passion for reading when he started to learn Chinese characters, hiding under the bedclothes to read at night.

His independent streak was obvious at an early age when he resisted his parents' attempts to control what they saw as bad habits or behavior, even on minor issues like keeping his desk tidy.

"They used to try to change me, but never succeeded. Then they started to know I always try my best to get what I want. Now they support every decision I make."

He won't own up to any influences in his determination to live his own life.

His academic progress foundered in 1999, when he failed seven subjects, including Chinese, at high school. He spent another year trying to catch up, but he eventually decided to quit.

However, before that, he won the first "New Concept" national essay contest, which encourages students to write innovatively, and he finished the manuscript for "Triple Gate" during class.

He told his teachers he'd live on the royalties, and they all laughed at his "naivety." But one month later, "Triple Gate" became a best-seller, and has since sold a million copies, making him a millionaire.

He believes "success is the mother of success," fueling his self-confidence.

Now he also makes money as a professional racing driver, and through advertising on his blogs.

In order to encourage Chinese writers, he is promising to pay an above-average rate of 2,000 yuan per 1,000 Chinese characters in a new magazine for which he will be the editor.

He has been thinking about giving up racing and writing for some time.

"But I still have some goals that haven't been achieved and some 'enemies' I have to beat," he said.

His ideal life would be "staying in the right place with the right person."

"Every morning when we wake up, we have nothing to do, and don't need to do anything," he said.

He admits to several relationships since he was 16, but he is only just considering marriage.

"I don't want to be restricted by anything," Han said, "but I believe that there is a stronger power. When it appears, it will make me be willing to take the responsibility."

A reporter from China Pictorial magazine once characterized his anti-establishment and individualistic nature as "Westernized" and asked: "How did you become like this?"

"I don't think things can be called 'Easternized' or 'Westernized.' There is only one standard - whether it's suitable for human beings," he answered.

Ma Yimu, editor of men's fashion magazine, Esquire, said, "Han Han is just a normal young man. He normally likes pretty women and normally says 'no' to the things he thinks wrong. If there were more Han Hans in China, the country would be more normal."

Han Han expresses the view in a song with his own lyrics, in his only album, when he sings, "Happiness is being happy in different ways."


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