Thursday, April 15, 2010

Best-Selling Novelist Nominated for Time's Most Influential People

Time Magazine has generated a lot of publicity, in China at least, with its publication of a list of nominees for its 100 Most Influential People list. Representing China are a handful of politicians, businessmen and dissidents/civil rights activists, but one name alone has generated most discussion.

Han Han (韩寒) - novelist, essayist, blogger, singer, online entrepreneur and rally driver - has attracted controversy from the moment he first burst on the literary scene. That was back in 2000 when as a precocious 17 year old he had his first novel, Triple Doors (三重门), published. That novel went on to become the biggest selling literary work in China in the past 20 years. Triple Doors struck a chord with millions of young Chinese with its scathing criticism of the Chinese education system and the spirit-breaking pressures it places on schoolchildren.

Han Han has since written a further four novels, and although sales have been respectable he has yet to repeat his initial success. Nevertheless his fame has continued to grow through his provocative and controversial essays and blog articles. His blog is one of the most popular in China in terms of hits and page views, with its spats with fellow celebrities, critiques of Chinese society and thinly veiled criticisms of government. He's regarded as a spokesman for the post-1980s generation, and his idol good looks have only added to his strong following amongst many young people.

Not everyone's a fan however, and not just the establishment he takes so much delight in attacking. A lot of goodwill he earned from his first novel has slowly disappeared, with people writing him off as the literary equivalent of a one-hit wonder. In a relatively controlled society like China where public criticism and outspokedness is frowned upon, his opinionated views can also put him offside with the general public.

It's no surprise that such a polarising figure has also divided Chinese with his Time Magazine nomination. Some have questioned whether he is as influential as Time seems to believe, while others wonder whether there are better, worthier writers who should have been nominated. And the Government-run media has seen the nomination as yet another plot by the West to undermine the Communist Party by championing its critics (see this informative China Digital Times article for more details and links to the articles in question).

Meanwhile, Han Han's supporters have rallied to the cause, voting in numbers on Time's online poll to ensure he makes the Top 100. Currently he's ranked number six in online votes. The final Top 100 list will be announced in early May.

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