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China: Only Talking About a Revolution

Race car driver, author and one of China's most popular bloggers, Han Han dropped a bomb this weekend with three new blog posts, respectively discussing the possibilities for revolution, democracy and freedom in China.

Unlike Chen Wei, who was just sentenced to nine years in prison for writing four essays, Han and his views on the reform vs. revolution debate and Chinese citizens’ ability to survive institutions such as freedom or democracy have, at least for the moment, brought discussion of a more open future China from the academic and ‘dissident’ spheres to the top of mainstream blog portals and all throughout microblog sites.

Between the three essays, Han frankly addresses questions that Chinese public intellectuals are often criticized for shying away from, but is himself now being accused of misrepresenting the many people in China who do advocate serious political change.

Roland Soong at EastSouthWestNorth has translated two of Han's essays, On Revolution, On Democracy with the third, ‘Wanting Freedom', probably coming soonhere.

We're trying to keep up with the hundreds of responses from public intellectuals and netizens to Han's ‘gauntlet', which we'll be adding below as we come across them. First up, Han's own father, Han Renjun, who at times seems to take on the role of Han Jr.'s spokesperson on Sina Weibo:

我电话问韩寒,你为什么这么取题目,谈革命和说民主,又大又危险。他说,两篇小文章哪里说的明白啊,只是这样取名字,让人可以开始敢于谈论这些以前不太敢触碰的词语,能争鸣总是一件好事。我一想也是,无奈有些学者不解风情,大谈什么读书少,学术差,不专业最好闭嘴,肤浅不配这些标题啊,真滑稽。

I called Han and asked why he chose grandiose and dangerous titles, ‘On Revolution’ and ‘On Democracy'. He said he wouldn't have been able to make his point in short posts and that only titles like these will bring people to start discussing these words that they're normally afraid to use, that a little contention is always a good thing. It makes sense to me, but certain scholars don't seem to get it, saying that instead of talking big about something, unlearned or uneducated people are better off keeping their mouths shut, that these subjects aren't fit for such shallowness. What a joke.

我还是觉得那些不解风情的朋友不能因为韩寒读书少学术差不专业就要求他闭嘴;韩寒说的话再肤浅,也不能不许他用这些词作标题,就像你姓金的话生了儿子哪怕智障也大可文不对题取名正日、日成,只要不讳本朝就行;韩寒两篇博文只是一些问答,大家有才能有兴趣尽可以去写专著系统论述,供全国人民学习。

These people who don't see Han's point shouldn't be telling him to shut up just because he isn't educated or his analysis is weak or unprofessional. Even if he were being more superficial, there's no justification for saying he can't use words like these in titles of his posts. [...] All Han's done is answer a few questions. If people are capable or interested enough, they can write a systemic discourse for the whole country to study.

Han Han: [T]he leader of the revolution is not going to be the good-natured, benevolent character that you imagine as you sit in front of your computer right now. Such a revolutionary leader is most likely going to be dictatorial, domineering, egotistical, presumptuous, venomous and incendiary. Yes, this sounds familiar but the Chinese people fall for this kind of style. This society is used to seeing the villains take charge and the good folks get slaughtered. The leaders who are preferred by the young culturati won't last a week.

Michael Anti:

韩寒这篇《谈革命》的文章没什么,就是他读书太少而已。台湾1980年代党外运动推动民主化的时候,国民党的启蒙者改革者拒绝民主化都是类似的腔调:不遵守公德的人如何能谈民主、中国人你为什么不生气之类。结果都是屁话,还不是正常民主化了?

There isn't much to say about Han Han's piece ‘On Revolution’ except that he needs to read more. When the Tangwai movement was calling for democracy in Taiwan in the 1980s, leaders and reformers in the Kuomingtang used similar arguments to reject democratization: People who don't respect public morality aren't fit to be discussing democracy, asking why people weren't angry, etc. Didn't it all just turn out to be hot air, when Taiwan democratized normally?

Hu Xijin, editor of Global Times:

韩寒连发博客,他“不认为天鹅绒革命能发生在中国”,认为“革命的最终收获者一定是心狠手辣者”,因此支持“更有力的改革”。他还认为中共有8000万党员,3亿亲属,“已不能简单被认为是一个党派或阶层了”,“党组织庞大到一定程度,它就是人民本身,人民就是体制本身”。当下中国难得听到的大实话!

Han Han has written several posts, with lines like “I do not believe that a Velvet Revolution can take place in China,” and that he thinks “the ultimate winner in a revolution must be a vicious, ruthless person,” which is why he supports “stronger reforms” for China. He also says that the Chinese Communist Party has 80 million members, and 300 million people belong to families in which someone has Party membership: “The Party is no longer just a political party or a class,” “When the party organization reaches a certain size, it becomes the people itself, and people form the system.” This is some real truth you rarely hear in China today!

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei:

没有看到辩论,就文章而言,太落俗套的腔调,向权利倾斜的立场,乏于认真的论述,过于默契、几近谄媚的论断,主动放弃和偏颇的贬褒。。。适合环球时报采用。

I haven't seen any debate, but speaking strictly of his essays, the tone is too orthodox and his stance is too close to that of authorities. His writing lacks honest discourse and is too acquiescent, almost predicated on flattery. It's biased and degraded, like he's surrendered voluntarily…it'd be a good piece for Global Times to run.

Han's publisher, Lu Jinbo, who some suspect came up with the idea for the three posts as a promotional tactic:

几日没怎么上网,各种文章都没看。我先说一句:在这甜腻腻的岁末季节,韩寒用两篇合计四千字博客文章,成功掀起了关于政治、民主的网络大讨论。这本身就是载入史册的大事件。

I haven't been online for a few days, haven't seen any essays. But I will say first: In this sweet and fattening year-end holiday, Han Han has used around 4,000 characters in two essays to successfully start a major online discussion about politics and democracy. This in itself will go into the history books.

Beijing Film Academy professor Cui Weiping, who interrupted her live-tweeting of Vaclav Havel's state funeral to share her thoughts:

仅仅说一句,通常革命是突然爆发的,不可预期和难以逆料。因此,就目前而言,即使是革命论者,也不可能提前进入难以预料的未来之中,显得与他人有什么不同。

当时许多的捷克人有住房,有小汽车,但为什么还要起来革命?天鹅绒革命是一场人的尊严的革命,存在和价值的革命。这场革命远远没有结束。哈维尔也并非是一个成功人士,也许是一个失败的典型。他是一个永远异议者,令权贵们不舒服,也刺痛一向自满的人。

There's only one thing I want to say: Revolutions usually erupt suddenly, they aren't scheduled and they can't be predicted. Which is why, at present, not even those who theorize about revolutions are able to preemptively distance themselves from others in some unforeseeable future scenario.

At the time, a lot of Czechs had housing, their own cars, so why did they have a revolution? The Velvet Revolution was a revolution in human dignity, both in people's existence and values. It's also a revolution which isn't even close to being over. Havel wasn't someone who excelled through life, you might even say he was a typical loser. But he was an eternal dissenter, afflicting the comfortable, a constant thorn in the sides of the complacent.

Academic Xue Yong:

我劝韩寒多读些书,去哈佛。我并不主张谁都要读书。但他要纵论历史、革命,基本的书还是要读的。否则只会拿共产党教他那几个概念胡乱演绎。什么东方社会不能革命。日本,韩国、台湾等,都已经是现代民主社会。其生成过程有许多革命(当然不仅仅是革命)。

I've told Han Han that he should study more, go to Harvard, not the sort of thing I encourage everyone to do. But if he's going to discuss things such as history and revolutions, he needs to have at least read some of the basics, otherwise he'll just end up making the same reckless deductions taught to him by the Communist Party. Where is it written that Asian societies can't experience revolutions? Japan, Korea and Taiwan are all modern democratic states, formed through multiple revolutions (though not only revolutions).

Chinese businessman and online personality Bei Zhicheng:

常识1:民主靠得不是民众的素质,靠的是人贪婪的本能;贪婪的本能决定了人会把选票投给他认为能带给自己最大利益的政客。所以你要说有个什么地方的人连这种本能都木有了,那真是邪门鸟。

常识2:老有人抱怨说“我身边的朋友不关心政治,只关心自己涨工资卖房子”。错了,你的朋友只是胆小而已,等到他真的能自由选择了,再有人告诉他你每年交的税有2万块是去养一帮无用的官员,你买房的房价里有70%也是养他们,现在你如此如此就可以不承担这些,你看他们不一蹦三丈高的。

我老在想动不动说中国人素质低农民根本不懂维护自己利益,和乌坎村一有骚乱就大喊这样的暴民太不理性了的是不是一拨人啊

Democracy doesn't depend on a populace with high quality of character, it depends on people's instinctual greed, which determines that people will cast their vote for the politician which stands to work most in their interest. Which is why there's something wrong with you if you say there exists a place where people lack this instinct.

People always complain that those around them aren't interested in politics, that they only care about getting a raise or paying off their mortgage. Wrong. Your friends are just afraid. Wait until they have the freedom to choose, and see what happens when they're told that the 20,000 RMB they pay in taxes every year goes toward raising a bunch of useless officials, that 70% of the price of your house also goes toward raising them, and if you do this and that, you won't have to put up with this anymore.

These people who are always quick to say that Chinese people have poor quality of character, that rural residents don't know how to defend their interests, how are they different from the people who started calling the Wukan villagers irrational thugs the second unrest broke out?

独立思考本身是种可贵的品质,但不是为逻辑不通辩护的理由,也不是为不读书辩护的理由。一个人物理就小学水平,当然会独立思考出“宇宙怎么会有边界呢?宇宙怎么可能起源于一个奇点呢?”,这时候你应该劝他却学习,而不是夸奖“很欣喜他确实在独立思考”

别拿中国民众的素质说事,要说民主制度下民众素质低的例子容易得很。英国贵族统治早早就废除了奴隶制没有种族隔离,美国白人老百姓就是看黑人讨厌经历了血腥内战还又过了百年才搞定种族隔离。这是不该实行民主的理由吗?不是,因为你避免了这些缺点会有更可怕的东东等着你,例如“三年自然灾害”

我认为韩寒是个很好的作家,出道以来一直保持独立思考不被拥趸所裹挟,对于社会问题他善于站在普通人的感受角度漂亮的批判;但是他的确在社会科学知识储备不够,复杂的问题容易绕晕。

Independent thought is a valuable trait, but it's not a reason to defend an illogical argument or not wanting to educate yourself. Can someone with just an elementary school level grasp of physics use independent thought to tell you whether or not the universe is finite? You would want to encourage him to study more, not exaggerate how much you love his independence of thought.

Leave the quality of character of Chinese people out of this, examples of low quality people in democratic systems are easy to find. The British aristocracy did away with the slave trade and racial segregation ages ago, but white Americans had a bloody civil war just because they didn't like the sight of black people and took a hundred years to finally eradicate racial segregation. Is that a reason not to implement democracy? No, rather it's that when you start avoiding defects like this you end up with the “three years of natural disasters.”

I think Han Han is a good writer. He's been able to maintain independence of thought without getting carried away with fans, and he's great at delivering criticism of social problems from the average person's point of view. But he truly does lack familiarity with sociological theory and easily gets in over his head in complex issues.

[...]
如果看完韩寒三篇文章,可以看出他是改良主义者,作为中产阶级和父亲担心彻底改变政体的变动带来的动荡和不可知的后果,这是可以理解的。可以先把之前举出的他的逻辑不清放在一边。事实上,如果他期望的改革能成功,革命派应该也能接受。只怕执政者顽固到底把改革派都变成革命派

If you read through Han Han's third essay, you can see that he's a reformist. As a middle class father, it's understandable that he would be worried about the unrest and unpredictable result of a complete change in the political system. You could even put aside his logical inconsistencies. In fact, if the reforms he hopes for were to be realized, revolutionaries could probably even accept that. The only worry is that those in power wouldn't budge and would portray reformers as revolutionaries to the end.

Window on the South journalist Xiong Peiyun:

韩寒没有有些朋友批评的那么差,但也没强到可做救世主。他只是个有独立人格的正常人。一个正常人能在这个国家成为时代偶像是这个时代的悲剧,但也说明这个时代悲剧正接近尾声。韩寒谈革命一文,我读到更多的是无奈、诚恳与责任。这些年我们批评政府很多,却忘了建设社会同样是关键,甚至是最重要一环。

今之时代,一个人如果指出国王没穿衣服,他是勇敢的批评者;如果他指出民众可能也没有穿衣服,那么他就成了懦弱的背叛者。这样的思维是非常可怕的,这也恰恰是统治者思维。最理性的方法,我仍旧认为是对于政府与社会,都要坚持批评。舍此,我们不可能有可靠的进步。

Han Han's essays aren't as bad as some critics have made them out to be, but they're also not strong enough to make him a savior. He's just a normal guy with independent thoughts. That a normal guy can become a popular idol in this country is a tragedy of this era, but it also shows that this tragic period is nearly over. In Han's essay on revolution, what I felt most were hopelessness, sincerity and responsibility. We do a lot of criticizing the government these days, but we've forgotten that building up society is equally important, possibly even more so.

Today, any person who points out that the emperor has no clothes on is a brave critic, but if the same person points out that the public might also not be wearing any clothes, well then he's just a spineless traitor. This train of thought is very frightening, and is exactly the way rulers see things. The most rational option, I've always felt, is to be thorough in criticizing both government and society. Only this way will we see lasting progress.

Media commentator Wuyue Sanren:

绕口令:韩少的粉丝面对别人对韩少批评时的态度,正好给韩少所有的论点补充了论据。奇怪的是,韩少提出问题是寻求某种解决,而崇拜他的很多人恰恰是解决问题的阻力。仿韩少说一句:你们就是那些会车时从来不关的远光灯。

韩寒的两篇文章出来之后,有个很奇怪的现象,就是我心目中那些大知识分子基本都反对他,而中小知识分子以及我这种知道分子最多是对其某些论点不同意,大方向上是赞同的(胡锡进就算了,他无法归类)。我不知道谁对,但我觉得这就是目前的现状与韩寒文章最好的注释。

Han Han's fans’ attitude toward people who criticize Han serves precisely as additional support for Han's argument. The strange thing is, Han raises these issues to find some sort of a solution, but the many people who worship him are actually an obstacle to solving these kinds of problems. Like Han said: You're the people who never turn off their high beams when they drive.

After Han published his two essays, something strange occurred: those I consider to be the greatest of intellectuals are now all criticizing Han, whereas lower to mid-level intellectuals and commentators like myself stopped at disagreeing with certain parts of his argument but agreeing overall (Hu Xijin too, but then he is unclassifiable). I can't say who's right, but I think this is the current situation and the best footnote to Han's writings.

每个人最大限度的、不伤害其他人的自由,是人类社会追求的目标,民主是目前所有试验过的手段中,最有效达成这个目标的方式,而宪政则是保证民主不演变成“大多数的暴政”的防波堤。我个人理解这三者的关系是:宪政为民主之基、民主是自由之路——就教于方家。

韩寒新文章《要自由》比前面两篇好,有妥协也有要求、有威胁,是个讨价还价的路子。其实我个人欣赏的恰恰就是这种看上去不彻底的东西,当年那些学生就是想一夜之间全部翻盘,最终才造成的不进反退。只谈应该如何、不谈合理妥协的,不是政治白痴就是别有用心。

The greatest limit on the individual, which all human societies pursue, is to not infringe upon other people's freedom. Of all the means attempted in attaining this goal, democracy is currently the most effective method, and a constitutional government is the bulwark keeping democracy from turning into a tyranny of the majority. My personal understanding of the relationship between these three components is: constitutionalism is the basis for democracy, and democracy is the road to freedom, just so we're clear on that.

Han's latest essay, Wanting Freedom, is better than the first two. It makes both compromises and demands, threats, and proposes a quid pro quo relationship. My preference is for things like this which don't appear complete. Those students that year wanted to see change overnight, and in the end there was no space left for discussion. If you talk only of how things should be done and not of reasonable compromises, then you're either an idiot in politics or you have an ulterior motive.

个人而言,非常欣赏wk的这次对抗与结果。我也想看着那里的村民完胜,但谁都知道那是不可能的。这事儿牛逼在于村民的组织与决心,以及最后求得一个目前所能达到的最好结果,为以后的解决做了范例。结合韩寒这三篇文章看,暗室之灯看来真的点亮了。

Speaking for myself, I was happy to see how the resistance in Wukan was dealt with. I also want to see the Wukan villagers succeed, but everyone knows this is impossible. The cool part was the villagers’ organizing efforts and determination, and that in end they attained the best result currently possible, which now serves as a precedent for resolving other situations. If you read all three of Han's essays together, it does indeed seem that the light in the darkroom has been switched on.

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