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Superblogger Han Han on Why “China Can’t Be a Cultural Superpower”

By Isabella Tianzi Cai

Han Han (photo: China Digital Times)

Ranked as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in a 2010 survey by Time, 28-year-old Chinese writer and rally racer Han Han has been in fact long well-known within China. While in high school, his essay “Seeing Ourselves in a Cup” won the first prize in China’s New Concept Writing Competition. Not long after, he dropped out of high school to free himself from China’s intensely selective education system and embark on a lifelong journey of self-learning. Since then he has written and published numerous articles and a dozen novels, many of which relate directly to contemporary controversial Chinese political issues.Because he can be exceedingly candid and honest in writing, a number of his blog posts have been censored by the state’s Propaganda Department. However, his blog continues to be one of the hottest in China. There, he helps the silenced minorities in China assert their uttermost concerns; he also critiques the Chinese culture from a fresh perspective of the “post-80s generation:” China’s youth who have grown up during the country’s economic boom and are often characterized as apolitical and consumer-obsessed.

In May this year, Han Han gave a speech at Xiamen University, titled “Why China Cannot Be a Cultural Superpower,” a translation of which can be found at Chinahush. The speech exemplifies his brash yet eloquent youthful critique of the Chinese establishment. In it, he mocks the current restrictive cultural environment under which Chinese writers and artists work, as well as the backwards attitudes of officials in wanting to both control domestic media and culture as well as their reception abroad:

I hope our workers in the press, our students and teachers, every one who loves and engages in culture including every webmaster can make an effort to decrease the amount of censorship and relieve words and webs that are blocked. I also hope that our leaders – mind that these leaders are different from you guys – and our government can be confident enough to let go the culture. I know that our leaders like to export our culture, this is a sign of a powerful country, but the thing is, the available cultures are too humble to go outside. When our writers write, they are self-censoring every second, how can any presentable works be possible when they are born under such environment? In the whole world, you castrate all of the works like news reports and present them to the foreigners, hoping it would sell, are foreigners aliens to you?

In order to fight what he calls the incompetence of state power, Han calls out for action, saying that if everyone is willing to participate in the usage of certain censored words, the condemned nature of these words will change: “Even if your names and my name go into the base, I believe there is a ceiling in the shield words base and every time a new word goes in, it pushes closer to the ceiling and will crash the whole thing down”.

Many of the titles distributed by dGenerate Films convey the spirit of social consciousness and freedom of expression endorsed in Han Han’s speech. Our films help raise consciousness of the ignored and/or forgotten past (Gai Shanxi and Her Sisters; Queer China, ‘Comrade’ China), spark debates in various important contemporary political and cultural issues (Meishi Street; Crime and Punishment), and bring the untouchable or unwatchable to their proper places in society so as to fight society’s overarching prejudices against them (Enter the Clowns; Using). We will continue working with such conscientious filmmakers, to make their works available to a global audience.


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