Young iconoclast's dim view on revolution strikes chord in Beijing
There may be many mysteries in Chinese politics, but whether the state propaganda machine is surrounded by many competing voices is not one of them.
A leader among those voices is Han Han, a 29-year-old professional rally driver and self-described amateur writer, whose blog has received 520 million visits since he started it in 2006.
The system never really took the young writer seriously, despite his occasional iconoclastic postings. But who could have expected that, as if to usher in the potentially eventful Year of the Dragon, Han would grow dissatisfied with his status as a mere youth icon. He began to get deep.
In a series of three essays posted between December 23 and 26, Han outlined his ideas on freedom and democracy, as well as the subject of revolution. The essays, which advocated a more gradual change than many dissidents might like, caused quite a stir among his usual fans, but also among an older crowd, a group that included academics and government media.
The official Global Times ran an editorial praising Han's views and many outlets reposted his blogs.
Officials have tolerated Han's political views in part because they differ from the usual dissident views - ranging from those who cling to neo-Maoism to those seeking the usual rights associated with Western-style democracy.
Structured in a mock dialogue of questions and answers reminiscent of Plato, Han's three blogs reflect both an unmistakable contempt for the powers that be and a profound concern about the possible outcome of any mass movement gone awry.
In 'On Revolution', for instance, Han warned that 'in an Eastern country with a complex social structure, a revolution would inevitably be usurped by someone of extreme cruelty in the end'.
The passage also questioned the desires of Chinese society: 'If you ask people on the street if they have freedom, the majority would say they feel they do. If you ask them if they need justice, they would just wish that they themselves would never fall victim to injustice.'
So, he concluded: 'My view is that a revolution is both unlikely and unnecessary. But if you ask me whether China should make a stronger push for the reform, my answer is definitely, 'Yes'.'
In 'On Democracy', Han argued it is only a matter of time before democracy comes to China. But people should avoid just hoping for the best possible scenario, like the 1989 velvet revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, while stumbling into Rwanda-style chaos.
'It is important for civil society to exert pressure on the government,' he said. But he said it was more important for government leaders to take matching actions.
'That, unfortunately, is an issue of character and also of luck,' he wrote. 'But different groups in [Chinese] society are so cut off from one another that those who wield the state power, for instance, seemed to remain as if nothing had happened when a major disaster took place, like the high-speed train crash [in Wenzhou ].'
Han ended his democracy essay by concluding that however hard change may seem, reform is still the best possible option. 'A revolution, violent or non-violent, can only be used as a bargaining chip for pressing for the reform. They can't possibly be put to real operation.'
In 'On Freedom', his final instalment, Han focused on freedom of expression and the press. Having established in the previous two essays his argument that democracy results from a negotiation between government and society, he can now lay down his own demands, namely less government control of culture, publishing, journalism and film.
If he could achieve these goals, he would restrict his comments and criticism to current events and refrain from discussing 'the sensitive events of the past' and the 'top cliques' families and their associated interests'.
But if no improvement is seen in two to three years, he said, he would personally demonstrate each year at annual meetings of the official Chinese Writers' Association and China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. 'I don't want to keep waiting [for freedom] until I get old. Please allow me to catch up.'
Following his verbal petition, Han also sent his New Year's wishes to his audience.
To the leaders in Beijing, he wrote: 'I wish the ruling party would take giant steps forward, so that its name can remain in history books compiled not just by itself.'