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Rivalrous Times
Han Han vs. Guo Jingming and China’s Millennials
Text by Li Xiaoxiao and Scott Huntsman

 

  

An enigmatic figure for sure, Han Han is even more mysterious to Westerners because of the lack of a parallel cultural figure. Due to his wide variety of endeavors and hobbies, one could call him a modern Renaissance Man, but he is first and foremost a writer - his racecar driving record leaves something to be desired.

Born in 1982, Han Han first emerged as a public figure around the turn of the 21st Century while still in his teens. At that time, literary magazine Meng Ya (“Sprout”) launched a competition called “New Concept Writing” which aimed to break traditional Chinese writing structure and encourage young people to think more creatively and break out of molds. Calling the competition a success would be an understatement - many of China’s most successful writers born in the 1980s were discovered through the campaign, including Han Han, Zhang Yueran, and Guo Jingming.

Readers are drawn to Han Han’s wit, sarcasm, bold criticism of modern society, and tendency to challenge traditional Chinese culture and philosophy. Many of his most devout fans felt him describing the world exactly as they too saw it, in a way that had never before been done in Chinese - not to mention published by the establishment. Han Han’s boldness has become legendary: When he took the gaokao, China’s life-changing national college entrance examination, he wrote an excessively long essay for which he received a perfect score, but scored zero in the mathematics section. After failing science and math repeatedly in school, he eventually dropped out.

Not surprisingly, Han became an icon for rebellious youngsters hungry to challenge society, and received sharp criticism from various established literary figures for disrespecting authority. His writing talent continued growing his fan base, and eventually he was writing the most widely-read blog in China. He started racing cars and receiving commercial and even acting offers.

Meanwhile, the career of Han Han’s contemporary and rival, Guo Jingming, developed just as fast. Not only did Han and Guo both emerge from the New Concept Writing Competition, but they’re almost the same age, aim for the same age demographic and are both based out of Shanghai. Compared to Han’s more middle-class native Shanghai background, Guo Jingming was born in humbler circumstances in Sichuan Province. This difference likely makes a huge influence on the writers’ starkly contrasting styles - Guo unabashedly celebrates luxurious elite living while Han endeavors to depict regular people.

 

 

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