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Han Han, China's top blogger and a glamor-boy race car driver, failed to get his culture magazine past all the roadblocks

Han Han (Julien Min)

EYES INSIDECHINA

China's top blogger, Han Han, has pulled the plug on his brand new paper-based literary magazine, making the surprise announcement with his trademark cutting irony that has millions of Chinese and more than a few officials in Beijing tuning in closely. Han Han declared that the abrupt closure after the publication of just one issue was prompted by his desire not to waste paper or to "go against the call of the state to reduce energy consumption and pollution including that coming from the editorial team."

The magazine, which reveled in its Chinese name of "Party" or "Solo Band," didn't make it to its second issue. The staff have been sent home with full pay until June, and the operation is being closed down. Within hours, nearly half a million people logged in to read Han Han's explanation.

At 28 years old, Han Han, a highly successful novelist, winning rally car driver, and all-around glamour boy has a huge following for his acerbic blog posts where he wields his ironic wit against the incompetence and repeated failings of the Chinese state. He has so far been successful in walking the fine line between what is allowed and what would land him in court.

So how did he lose his balance on the latest venture? Well, officially, the magazine couldn't get its public registration, and printers tore up their contracts at the last minute, making various excuses for not going ahead. But was the real story that the Chinese government propaganda department had decided to take a hard line against the magazine? After all, as the Guardian reported, one Chinese newspaper estimated that the government had censored 70% of the content of the first issue. This came after officials delayed publication for over a year, finally permitting 128 pages of cutting-edge input from musicians, film makers and writers.

One and a half million Chinese bought the first issue. Because of registration difficulties, the first issue was officially a book and not a magazine. A Chinese media website, danwei.org, points out that in China written materials require seperate licences for publication, printing, and distribution, and that printed matter is far more tightly controlled than on-line material.

On his blog, Han Han was circumspect, warning his followers not to jump to hasty conclusions. "I don't know where I went wrong. I don't know who I've displeased. I'm standing in the light while you are in the dark. If we ever meet, I will not hold a grudge, but please could you tell me what happened?"

Han Han has not shied away from sensitive topics in the past. On the Shanghai Universal Exhibition he said "If I praise the Expo 2010 Shanghai, I'll have a bad conscience, and if I criticize it I'll have sleepless nights." He dared to offer an opinion of the conflict over the Senaku / Diaoyutai islands. But possibly he is being punished for writing in his blog of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiao Bo, by referring to him as " ", the three empty spaces being filled in by the imagination of his readers.

But Han Han seems to know that with more than 440 million hits on his site he can still speak out. Earlier this year he confided to The New York Times "The government wants China to become a great cultural nation, but our leaders are so uncultured. If things continue like this, China will only be known for tea and pandas."

It has to be said that one of the least endearing characteristics of modern China – that can't be pinned on government officials -- is the tendency to try to drag down anyone who manages to rise above their original station in life. This is particularly true in the world of art and literature. Han Han no doubt is a source of irritation to others who would gladly replace him: so the thesis that his only enemy is the government may be incomplete.

Laura Ling

Worldcrunch

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