Han Han: “The Onions That Can’t Be Cleaned”

This post was written by C. Custer, but the translation is by K. E. David.

The following is a translation of Han Han’s latest post, which can be found here. We are not the first to translate this; that prize goes to China Elections and Governance, who have been translating all of Han Han’s recent posts with such speed that they beat out Danwei and me (for chinaSMACK) on the last one. I’m posting this anyway because K. E. David translated it before he was aware it had already been translated, and because I think it reads a bit more smoothly than their translation (no offense is meant to CE&G by this, I am obviously not an unbiased observer).


Recently, the Fujian [Education Bureau] has released ten new regulations for [teachers in] higher education. The one that is currently getting the most attention is the second regulation:

“When teaching, disseminating ideas which go against Party lines or policies, the Party’s basic theories, the country’s laws or legislation, or anything that is harmful to fostering within students correct and ideal political convictions and faith in government, will lead to a ‘vote of rejection’, in which violators will be fired.”

What’s soothing about all of this is that when reading the above you’d naturally think that such violations would lead to “being shot”, but instead we just have a “vote of rejection”, which is major progress from the Mao Zedong era. As far as who would cast such a vote, I really don’t care. What I care about are “Party lines, policies” and “the Party’s basic theory”—these are difficult concepts to grasp.

Those in power demand that we [stand together] with a common purpose, a unified way of thinking, but [the leaders] themselves are incapable of thinking in a unified way. When I was small, I vaguely remember my high school textbook describing the separation of powers. My politics teacher said, “The separation of powers is a good thing”. But recently, everything I’ve seen related to separation of powers has government officials and news articles saying the exact opposite, that the separation of powers is a bad.

You know, I only have a high school diploma, so I had only studied politics up to this point before dropping out, so I’m very confused about all of this. I was turned on to an improper way of thinking thanks to the propaganda disseminated by that textbook and teacher. As a result, I feel very worried about my fate.

[Teachers] are always [teaching from] the scripts handed to them by the government. If they screw up, they give it back to the leaders to correct. But the reason they screw up [to start with] is because the leaders changed their minds over night, and when the leaders awake the next morning they change their mind [again].

I read recently an appropriate evaluation [of this situation]. The general idea is that [a leader] gets in his car [and starts driving]. He turns on his right blinker, drives for about a meter, and then immediately swerves to the right, and unexpectedly hits someone.

So, if you find yourself having been crushed to death by this driver, you can only chock it up to bad luck.

News reporters seek the truth, history teachers lecture history, authors write about the truth in speech, movie directors film reality. Taken lightly, they’ve committed incorrect thinking. Taken heavily, they walk the path of the criminals. However, once someone [walks down this path], people one after another [start to] guess: Was he taken out for coffee? Is he shut out? Has he been arrested?

And the reality is that nothing had happened to the person the whole time. In the end, whatever it was they did that supposedly broke the law was just deleted/removed. But people still don’t feel at ease. On the contrary, they feel more worried. They feel that perhaps it’s because that person has a reputation, that the government is apprehensive [about punishing him]. [And so people think], if the government does something to me, is it because they aren’t apprehensive about doing so?

What type of deep-rooted problem is this taking form? How long has it been being watered and cared for for it to turn out like this?

With any generation, brainwashing is just like washing vegetables—there are always a few onions that will never be thoroughly cleaned. In the past, some people would take these onions and peel them clean, but following the changes of succeeding generations, [these onion peelers] are satisfied [if the unclean ones] mind their own business. But as soon as the unclean onions start talking to other [clean] onions, they’ll be squashed by those pretending not to know otherwise.


As for most of the history, language and politics teachers: what type of evaluation will future history, language and politics textbooks receive? What role will you play in these? Perhaps you lack the ability to act independently, of your own volition, but each one of your students is a seed of yours. Truly try to be a teacher. Teacher your students common sense, give them a voice and way of thinking of their own, give them independence and justice. Put yourself in a position where, looking back on the present from later years in life, you can tell your grandchildren that you proudly took on and fulfilled the responsibilities of your profession. Don’t look back on this time ashamed.

Our Thoughts

Reminder: this part of the post was written by C. Custer.

This post is significant because instead of just being snarky, Han Han is actually calling for action here. What’s more, he’s not calling for the government to change their policy, rather he seems to be imploring teachers to ignore government political mandates. Granted, he doesn’t say that explicitly, but the between-the-lines implication is there.

We’ve written quite a bit about education recently, and Han Han is no newcomer to the topic either as his breakout novel was a criticism of the Chinese education system. Still, as one of the privileged folks who authorities are afraid to mess with, and someone who dropped out of the educational system, Han Han is coming from an interesting position here, especially in his appeal to legacy. Teachers, especially teachers of history, are wont to be conscious of the legacies they leave. One wonders if Han Han, too, is pondering his legacy. Thusfar, he has walked the line, gaining the common people’s admiration without attracting too much government attention. Perhaps this post is an early sign that Han Han is no longer willing to be labeled as, in the words of William Moss, “dissident lite”.

Also, check out ChinaGeeks Chinese’s newest translation: 采访前中国吸血鬼.