Han Han: Let the Sunshine In

This is really important. Han Han is a Chinese race car driver, singer, author and the country’s most prominent blogger. He was just voted #2 most influential person in the world in Time Magazine’s Top 100 poll. In response to being nominated, he penned a blog post earlier this month called “Let the Sunshine In” that is a dramatic call for fundamental changes to how the Chinese Communist Party governs the country, including an end to internet censorship, detention for thought crimes, and torture. According to China Digital Times, which has posted a translation of Han Han’s post, the post has over 25,000 comments, 45,000 direct links, and 1.2 million views. While the post has been pulled down from a number of his blogs (it is common for prominent bloggers in China & Tibet to maintain multiple home sites, to reduce the likelihood of a post being entirely deleted by internet censors), the original has now been up for three weeks.

Here is China Digital Times translation (with my emphasis added):

Yesterday, I saw a news report which said that I am a candidate for the list of the 200 most globally influential people from Time magazine. Sensitive word, sensitive word, and sensitive word from China are also candidates. At the moment [I heard this news] I was digging up bamboo shoots in my village (I was digging in my family’s field), so I did not pay too much attention. Later I saw there were lots of text messages on my cell phone, asking my take on this. I only replied to two friends in the Beijing News and Southern Metropolis Daily; all the other things written in other media are friendly imaginations based on my personality. I did not realize that so many people care about this, so I will just write about it here all together.

First of all, I sighed and felt regret. Why do others have such news media? When Time puts out a list of influential people, it makes waves within other countries. How much I desire that our China can have such media. When this media selects people, it also gets attention from the whole world. We cannot say such media is completely fair, but they do have public credibility. How much I desire that our country has this as well. But regrettably we do not. This is not to say that our journalists are not as good as journalists from other places, it is because ….. those reasons that everyone knows. I will just stop here; if I say more about this I will be dead, and my dead body will be whipped as well.

I often ask myself, what contribution have I made to this society which is full of sensitive words? Maybe in the end, all I contribute is another sensitive word which is my name. That’s all. Everyday I get out of bed around noon, often wasting money on digital gadgets, and I’m very picky about food. Thank goodness that I did not add more load or sin to this society, at least so far. I do not have a grand vision; I only want the relevant departments to treat art, literature and the news media better, to not impose too many restrictions and censorship, and to not use the power of the government or the name of the State to block or slander any artist or journalist. If this can be done, you do not need to spend a fortune; this country will automatically produce art work and news media which can be exported to the West, and our small readers, listeners, audience, netizens, urban dwellers and citizens can all enjoy this benefit. I may not have the talent and ability to write great things, but some others do. But you [the goverment] should not castrate people or glorify those who have been castrated.

A journalist asked me over the phone: In some places it’s been said that you are colluding with Western anti-China forces. I said this [accusation] is expected. They [the government] has used this method for sixty years. During the earlier several decades they may have genuinely believed this, but in recent decades, this is just a means of slander. I am just a person that often almost did not get my visa when I participated in competitions abroad because my documents were incomplete. What kind of Western forces are they talking about? What age is it now, that they still use the word “colluding”? That’s sounds so pathetic. If there is a comrade who is listening to my phone everyday, you must be very clear about what kind of person I am. What do you say, my friend? In front of a computer screen there must be a friend who smiles as he understands what I am talking about. But I am just curious, that after so many decades [the government] still only has this one position [in screwing people]. He is not tired of it, but the other party is sick of it.

However, I clearly recognize their existence. You always need both sides, positive and negative, camp A and camp B. If in our country, when we cannot agree with each other, we can leave each other alone, instead of censoring those that do not agree with us, then that would be huge progress. We will work hard towards this day.

Later the same journalist sent me another short text message: In other words, your views and expressions fit with Western values. Don’t you think so?
I replied to him: Don’t [my views and expression] fit Chinese values as well?

I believe that there may be different values between earthlings and aliens. But for Westerners and Easterners? Other then different living habits, how much different could the values be? Why do we have to fight over this?

At last, let me return to the point of so-called influence. I often feel very ashamed. I am just a person with a pen. Maybe my writings make people feel like they are releasing some of their anger or resentment. But other than that what’s the real use? The so-called influence is illusory. In China, those who have influence are those who have power. Those who can make rain from clouds, those who can decide if you live or die, or keep you somewhere in between life and death. They are the people who really have influence. However, I am not sure it is just because they are afraid of search engines or they are too fragile to be searched; we often cannot find them by using search engines. We are just a small role on the stage, under the spotlight. But they own the theater. They can at any time bring the curtain down, turn off the lights, close the door and let the dogs out. Later the dogs all disappear and the sky is blue again; there is no trace of what has happened. I just wish those people could really put their influence into good use. And those of us on this stage, even those who built this theater in the past, should make efforts to gradually take down those high walls and light bulbs. Let the sunshine in. That kind of light, no one can extinguish it again.

I’ve read a lot of the writings of dissident Chinese and Tibetan writers. I’ve seen a lot of bold ideas come forth in the last three years and watched them spread like wildfire around the Chinese and Tibetan blogospheres. But rarely has someone achieved such prominence as Han Han and never, with the possible exception of famed architect Ai WeiWei, has a Chinese thinker used their position of celebrity to put such revolutionary  words out into the world. I’ve read this piece about five times in the last twelve hours and each time it gives me goosebumps.

Over the last decade, I’ve often had friends ask me how I think Tibet will be free and what the likelihood of regime change in China happening.  I’ve always had intellectual answers of how change can occur to respond with. But for the first time, it is clear. Han Han and people like Liu Xiabo, Woeser, and Ai WeiWei are how the Chinese Communist Party will lose their hold on power.  Han Han’s celebrity is clearly protecting his ideas, but how the Chinese government responds to him in the future is critically important. His ideas are clearly a forerunner to regime change. The CCP is now in a Catch-22. If he is jailed or beaten or torture or murdered in response for his ideas, the public outcry could be a precursor to revolution. But if he and other people like him are allowed to continually push for freedom and democracy, then too will the table be set for the public to throw the CCP out of power.

Read Han Han’s post above again. As you do so, make sure you keep in mind that he knows exactly what words will trigger censors, what words will prompt government officials to call him in to have tea and talk about the things that he must not do.  He knows the weight and consequence of each turn of phrase, even going so far as to highlight that the names of other Time nominated influentials are in fact sensitive words. He critiques the government’s actions in the leadup to the Beijing Olympics (ridding the city of dogs, temporarily clearing smog). He even takes a direct shot at the Party’s fear of a mere search engine. These are not subtle critiques. These are direct shots, or at least as direct as he can reasonably make without guaranteeing a sentence of patriotic reeducation through labor.

I don’t know what will happen next. But for now, I am in awe of the power, passion, and patriotism of Han Han, in penning what I think is going to be the most important individual blog post in 2010.

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