On January 15, influential Chinese blogger Mai Tian posted “Manmade Han Han: A Farce About ‘Citizenry’ ” in which he alleges that some of Han Han’s earlier works were ghostwritten by his father Han Renjun. The story generated a lot of interest on weibo, a Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter.
Part of the reason for such public interests has to do with Mr. Han’s popularity in China. In 2000, Han published his first book “Triple Door” as a seventeen year old high school student. The book became a best seller, and Han Han was catapulted into the national spotlight as a literary prodigy and teenage idol.
What makes the Han Han’s story intriguing is the fact that he was a high school dropout who had to repeat tenth grade after failing seven subjects. His later success as a best-selling author, champion race car driver and popular blogger has given hope to many Chinese youths who perform poorly in the Chinese educational system. If someone like Han Han can succeed on such a grand scale, they reason, then they too may have a chance to live a happy and fulfilled life.
But what if Han Han were not the genius that he was portrayed to be as Mai Tian suggested? Would his first novel “Triple Door” have sold so well if the author were known to be a middle-aged man instead of a seventeen year old boy? Soon after Mr. Mai’s initial post, Fang Zhouzi, an U.S. educated scientist and accomplished writer himself, joined the debate. In a series of blog posts on Sina, Mr. Fang analyzed some of Han Han’s earlier writings, and also concluded that they seemed to be written by someone other than Han Han.
In two separate posts dated March 5 and March 13, Mr. Fang discussed his reasons for believing that Han Han knew ahead of time the essay topic that won him a first prize in the inaugural New Concept Writing Competition in 1999 and turned in an essay composed by his father. In other posts, Mr. Fang suggested that the magazine that organized the writing competition needed a teenage sensation to help revive its dwindling subscription base, and awarding the top prize to a kid like Han Han seemed like a good way to generate the kind of buzz that could boost subscriptions.
For the past few months, the Han-Fang debate has generated a lot of heated discussion both in literary circles and among the general public. On popular internet forums such as Tianya, posts about the Han-Fang debate have attracted huge followings. One post lists the dozens of books quoted in “Triple Door,” including several classics, and questions Han Han’s claims from earlier interviews that he did not read classics in his teenage years. Adding the fact that Han Han’s father was an award winning writer who diligently published his short stories and essays in magazines but stopped doing so after Han Han’s writing career took off, some people began to believe that perhaps there was some truth to the ghostwriting speculation.
But Han Han vehemently denied Mr. Fang’s claims and sued him for defamation on January 29, 2012. As in many such controversies, both sides have strong supporters. In an opinion poll conducted by Phoenix New Media, as of April 29, 117,035 or 45.6% of those who voted supported Han Han, versus 112,675 or 43.9% for Fang Zhouzi.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, Han Han’s prominence as an opinion leader and public conscience in China has been somewhat diminished by the controversy. If he is not what he appears to be, some observers wonder aloud, people had better start to follow their own internal compass instead of putting too much faith into someone else’s moral directions.