“Lunch with the FT: Han Han”

Han Han on his recent writings and hopes for the future:

“Though we don’t have 100 per cent freedom in writing, we do have a better writing environment than many westerners imagine,” he says. His Chinese is delivered in a fluid, rhythmic style, with liberal use of repetition for emphasis: “We do have freedom of writing and we do have freedom of expression.” Then the punchline. “However, the government also has the freedom to delete what we have written.”

Many nationalists have attacked Han for a lack of patriotism. Others have suggested he’s not radical enough. He uses ambiguity to evade critics and censors alike, though in February he threatened to sue someone who accused him of employing ghostwriters. “For any type of struggle, I think the most important thing, if you want to continue the struggle, is to protect yourself,” he says. This circumspect approach was illustrated in 2010, when the imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Han posted a blog consisting solely of a pair of quotation marks, the typographic equivalent of the empty chair placed at Oslo’s Nobel ceremony. The post drew 1.5m hits.

In one essay, he implied it was too easy to blame the Communist party for all China’s ills. The party, after all, officially has 80m members. “I don’t mean we cannot attack the party. Why can’t we attack it? But everybody thinks the evil of the nation is caused by an institution when, in reality, everybody is an accomplice,” he says. “In the near future, it’s impossible to change the institution. So we need to change the people. And if we can change the people, then the party will change.”

Is he really not perturbed by the weight of so much attention? “I’m not bothered,” he shrugs. I ask if he thinks he has become more grounded since the birth of his daughter 17 months ago. “If anything, I have become more radical. Now I have more desire to push forward political reforms in this country.” Because he wants a better place for his daughter? “I want her to stay in China,” he says, taking a little block of the honey toast that has suddenly appeared on the crowded lazy Susan. “But my country right now is not good enough. So, even though I am a weak individual, the only thing I can do is to try to help make the country that I dream of.”

That provides me with the simplest of last questions. What kind of country would he like his daughter to grow up in? There’s an uncharacteristic pause. “There’s one simple answer,” he says, finally. “When you come to China to interview me again, we shouldn’t need to talk about politics, we shouldn’t need to talk about freedom of expression. Because those things will be a given. Instead, we’ll just talk about football and food and music – and movies.”

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