In Brief: Han Han on Criticism from Li Ao and Chen Wenqian

Han Han may be beloved (to some) on the Mainland and despised (by some) in the Party, but two of his harshest critics, Li Ao and Chen Wenqian, are from Taiwan. In general, he has declined to respond at all to their criticism, but in a recent interview, he finally spoke out.

We asked him: “When people praise you, how do you feel about it? When people belittle you, how do you mitigate that? Taiwan’s Chen Wenqian and Li Ao have been heavily critical of you, but you haven’t responded, what does that mean?

Han Han said: “In the past I fought many battles through my blog, but later I gave myself a rule: if the opponent is older than 70, under 20, or a woman, I will not respond. Li Ao and Chen Wenqian both fall under this rule. But I would like to say to Mr. Li Ao: if A and B have a disagreement, and then A and you have a disagreement, this doesn’t mean you have to go and side with B [on everything]. There is another kind of attitude, it’s called independence.

We asked him, “How can you be so blunt?” He said, “Aside from the girls and family members I like, seeing everything else as devoid of substance is OK.”

Not attacking children and old folks, that part makes sense. But refusing to respond to criticism from any woman? That’s just plain sexist. And sadly, this is far from the first time.

It’s not difficult to imagine how a young, famous, attractive race car driver/professional writer might come to have a skewed image of women. But that doesn’t make this attitude acceptable, or any less disappointing for those of us who enjoy his writing and social criticism on the occasions it doesn’t betray this bias.

Very possibly, Han Han’s lifestyle will allow him to look down on women and others in general for the foreseeable future. But one wonders to what extent his fans, as they age and mature, will begin to shy away. Moreover, one wonders to what extent his much-touted influence will wane as media elites and intellectuals continue to edge away from his positions, afraid of being associated with his increasingly-public misogyny.

There are few sharper tongues in China, and at his most poignant, he drives directly to the heart of this country’s most fatal flaws. It’s a shame he insists on blunting his own sword with these sexist, arrogant remarks.

Thanks to Isaac Mao (@isaac) for tweeting the quotation and thus calling it to our attention.

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0 thoughts on “In Brief: Han Han on Criticism from Li Ao and Chen Wenqian”

  1. @gregorylent

    C. Custer is a guy, the distinction here is not male/female but Western/Eastern standards of political correctness.

    @custer
    I don’t think Han Han meant “I will never engage in intellectual debate with a woman” so much as “I will never engage in personal criticisms with a woman because I’ll come out looking like a bully.” If he had left out the [with a woman] part, I would agree and applaud him. He’s got this giant soap box, we all listen to him, it would be great if he were classier while standing on it.

    But in the end, I really don’t think Han Han meant anything by his statement because he often doesn’t mean anything by his statements. He just made quite the backhanded witticism there, calling one enemy senile and the other effeminate, while hiding behind a veneer of chivalry. He made up the sentiment so he could make the insult.

    And on a side note, if his detractors had been a 71 year old and a 19 year old, so that he leave out the part about a woman, I would still object. Ageism is just as insidious as sexism.

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  2. I agree with you, but I don´t think his sexists ideas are such a big deal in China right now. People here just make this kind of comments everyday, including women. It´s sad and I don´t agree with this, but they seem to come up naturally in China.

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  3. Dude. Think. He’s saying he doesn’t want to get into public arguments with old people, little kids and women. That’s PR, not sexism.

    Eg. You can never win an argument against an 85 yr old. Get it? Get it? It’s very clever actually.

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  4. Acutally, as a Chinese and as a woman, I think what he meant is that he does not want to respond to women because that would be regarded as bullying women. Honestly, I think it’s more a cultural thing and a language thing. I didn’t really think his comment was sexist until it was translated into English.

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  5. By when you rend it in English, it does sound really sexist. I don’t know why. But when it is read in Chinese, It does sound like he’s doing it out of politeness and is not intended to look down on women.

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  6. “And on a side note, if his detractors had been a 71 year old and a 19 year old, so that he leave out the part about a woman, I would still object. Ageism is just as insidious as sexism.”

    I still think it falls under bullying. You will never win a public debate against a kid (bullying) or old people (disrespecting your elders).

    I think it’s a brilliant policy for celebs.

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  7. @ Mike, teffy, etc.,

    Yes, obviously Han Han was trying to make a joke about being gentlemanly by not bullying. But that doesn’t mean he succeeded.

    Bullying is “using superior strength or influence to intimidate.” From that perspective, it makes sense that in terms of a physical fight, a man refusing to fight with women would be considered a gentleman (in most cases). Due to the natural differences in our bodies, the average man is larger than the average woman, making the “average” physical fight between a man and a woman demonstrably unfair. Thus, for a man to decline to fight is noble.

    But that logic doesn’t make sense when you’re talking about an intellectual debate unless you believe that all women are somehow naturally less intelligent or capable than men (or at least less intelligent and capable than Han Han). So obviously, his statement, on the face of it, is sexist. I get that he’s drawing a comparison between the two; what I don’t see is why that makes it (a) funny and/or (b) not sexist.

    It is not “polite” to ignore all criticism from women unless you think that arguing with women is, by default, bullying. If you do believe arguing with women is a form of bullying them, then you must believe that women are naturally intellectually inferior. Otherwise, how could it be called “bullying”?

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a language thing either. Admittedly, I’m not a native speaker, but in the process of translating this post last night, I showed it to my girlfriend (Chinese) to be sure I wasn’t misinterpreting it. I wasn’t, she said, and she certainly didn’t find it funny, especially when I told her it was Han Han who said it. She likes Han Han, and when I saw it was him, she frowned, read it again, and then frowned even harder.

    @ Nick: He’s not “calling [someone] effeminate”; Chen Wenqian is a woman.

    @ Mike: Since when is getting into an intellectual argument with a woman bad PR? Why would that be bad PR? Is it worse than arguing with a man for some reason? Is there something unfair about a man having an intellectual argument with a woman?

    Again…it’s only “bad PR” if you think women are incapable of holding their own in an intellectual debate.

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  8. C I really don’t know how you have the energy to explain (again & again & again) why something is sexist.
    Han Han isn’t the problem. Talented as he is, he’s a product of mainstream Chinese society, he has never risen above being that and as time passes and more dickhead remarks made, I’m starting to doubt if he ever will.
    And in mainstream Chinese society, sexism is not only acceptable but almost institionalized. Just watch the annual NPC meetings as they are represented on CCTV and other Chinese (and foreign) media. try to count how many images of attractive attendants pouring tea for the leaders there are. The message is unintended but it’s clear: Man dye their hair and lead the country, women dress up and serve tea. And this is just the most obvious example. Talk to some of the most prominent human rights activists in China and you’ll find the idea that womens’ equality is a *human rights issue* completely new to them.

    This is the backdrop against which HH made his remarks so they are hardly surprising. If anything they highlight his own limitations and why most of the time he doesn’t seem to be able to move beyond witty criticism of local government work.

    BTW refusing to argue with young or old people is just as bad.

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  9. Rachael,

    I don’t know if we can categorize women serving tea is a human rights issue. Probably people in the government tend to be more conservative so they would need these women serving tea as a formality. China is a changing society, like there are more women bosses are out there and the top 3 richest women in the world are from China. Go to Chinasmack there are alot of articles about rich snooty women out there and they are part of the society.

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  10. Custer, I refrained from posting last time this came up but this time I’ll speak my peace. Men and women make different movies. If your way of thinking can’t accept that fact then maybe you should reexamine your way of thinking instead of criticizing someone who points it out. Yes “The Hurt Locker” was a great movie but let’s not pretend that girls were dragging their boyfriends to see it.

    Also Han Han “debates” by using sarcasm and making fun of his opponent. If he doesn’t want to do that to old people, children and women out of respect for these particular groups is his perogative and more commendable than anything else. Does it really mean that he couldn’t have an “intellectual discussion”, as you put it?

    My problem with the American feminist viewpoint that I’m assuming you mostly agree with is that it is based on a number of fallacies. One, as I’ve pointed out above, is not accepting that there is a fundamental difference in the psychology of men and women, and that things such as the division of labour are hardwired into our brains. For example the assumption that 50% of CEO’s not being female is somehow unnatural, without looking at the percentage of women who have enough lust for power to make the personal sacrifices and step on people to get to that position.

    If I point out that the vast majority of China Geeks posters are male, is that “sexist”? Does it suggest “intellectual inferiority”? How would you explain this observation Custer?

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  11. The debate on feminism is always weird, especially when you are dealing with other cultures. Compared to some western nations, Chinese are definitely sexist. However if you look at employment statistics you will find that Chinese women make up about 45 percent of the entire China workforce, that means that most women in China work rather than being expected to stay at home and raise kids. Also, more than half of the richest self-made women in the world are Chinese (http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101012/wl_asia_afp/chinawealthbusinesspeople) . So women can and definitely do succeed in China, financially speaking.

    There are many social aspects of the Chinese culture which would be considered sexist. However there are also many culture aspects of Western culture which would be considered taking advantage of women as well, such as when Western men kissing and hugging women they are not intimate with. Chinese and many asian nations (Indians for example, they got upset at richard gere for kissing some other actress as a greeting) frown upon that sort of thing.

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  12. @c custer
    i think mike is correct here. even in a battle of words, han han will still be seen as a young car-racing hotshot browbeating a defenseless woman and an old man. i interpreted han han’s comment as making light of the futility of the situation, whereby he is unable to respond without been called a bully. it seems he was mocking this silly attitude.

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  13. @ teffy: I might buy that if he hadn’t immediately followed that sentence by attacking the 70+ year old man.

    @ Some Guy: That’s a pretty hardcore generalization you’ve got going on there. Yes, The Hurt Locker probably appealed to more men than women, but there’s a reason they didn’t ban women from seeing it. Anyway, I don’t see what a difference in tastes (something we get from culture and thus affected by gender roles) has to do with intellectual ability (which is genetic).

    As a sidenote, yes, there are more male than female readers of this site; presumably mostly because a larger proportion of foreign men than women study and work in China at the moment (I’m not sure how many people read this site who haven’t lived in China at some point; my guess is very few). I don’t think it has anything to do with a fundamental difference between men and women. If you’re suggesting there’s something fundamentally male about discussing Chinese politics and national issues, that’s ridiculous, and I think that the women who write posts here would probably be offended…

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  14. With regards to the main article, that whole arguement is predicated on chinese women wanting rights in the first place, which, as has clearly been demonstrated by their unwillingness to even attempt to do anything about it is certainly not the case. Women in western countries earned their rights, chinese women simply had it handed to them.

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  15. keisaat

    Nice to see you too, and thanks. It was interesting to read you just after receivieng an email calling me a tool of the CCP.

    I actually agree with you that in some respects China isn’t doing so bad- and definitely doing better than many other countries – on the issue of women’s rights. My previous comment was intended at this discussion specifically which is about HH’s words and I was trying to describe what I see as lying in the base of it, a certain state of mind if you will, that confindes women to certain limited roles. I think there is a problem on the conceptual level and I’m sure there isn’t enough discussion regarding males & females roles in society. On a practical level, definitely, there are tons of smart women who are doing very well in China. No one denies it. (And Please dont let us forget that many others aren’t doing well at all)

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  16. @Custer – I think accusing Han Han of sexism merely for what is obviously a flip, throwaway comment, implying that he wouldn’t look good if he responded to such criticism. But let’s just have a look at the people who he is responding to.:

    Li Ao – Yes, the same putz who let off tear gas in the Taiwan Legislative Yuan a few years back, and then went on to claim that he had ‘proof’ that the shooting of Chen Shuibian back in 2004 was an inside job. I haven’t read his books, so I can’t comment on them, but his claims to have been nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature (how would he know?) are a bit discreditable as well. I guess it’s also worth mentioning that his daughter used to write an incredibly annoying column in That’s Beijing (I think) on manners and etiquette which was rightly lampooned by Sinocidal back in the day.

    Sisy Chen – The woman who believes that she is a re-incarnated witch, Chen-assassination truther and general all-round busybody.

    In a fight between Han Han and these fools, I back Han Han.

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  17. LOLZ: 45% employment rate is not an accurate reflection on gender equality in employment. China is after all a developing country, and most people still struggle to make a living. This obliges any spare labors in the families to go to the labor market and find jobs, men and women alike. Comparison on income might be a better indicator.

    Based on my personal experience and what I’ve heard. discrimination is still prevalent in many industries and for many types of positions.

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  18. If a person is going to hijack this thread only to bash Li Ao and Chen Wenqian, at least he should it with something more worthwhile. I mean, to say that Li and Chen are bad simply because they were critical of Chen Suibian is silly. Chen if I recall is the one who a was convicted by the Taiwan courts of defrauding the Taiwanese people tens of millions, who kept multiple swiss accounts to cover all of this up, whose daughter tried to excuse his family’s “misfortune” by stating that every lawmaker in Taiwan does this sort of thing. The final insult is him trying to excuse his simple greed by making himself look like a political martyr. All of this time he acted like he is this genuine character of virtue and the hope of the TI movement. Is it THAT much of a stretch to accuse him to engaging in yet another fraudulent activity in his political life? Chen is a major fraudster, after all.

    Now back on topic of women in China. I think the employment figures are the most important because if women are not employed, it doesn’t matter how much on average they make verses the men, they will be 100% financially dependent on the men. In this regard the women in China are much more empowered than most of the women in the world (India+ women in muslim nations which make up a large portion of the population in the world all have less power).

    Also, if you search on the phrase “Chinese women income inequality” you will come across a paper which found that in the 80s women actually had it very good in terms of salary gap between them and their husbands. In between 1990s and 2000s however Chinese women’s salaries have gained at a slower pace than their husbands. The finding is that privatization is the reason for this; as the state enterprises are forced to close down women are laid off more than men because their salary were higher. If you want to talk just about income inequality between sexes then in China at least capitalism is to blame.

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  19. @Lolz – That Chen committed fraud through mis-appropriation of funds is pretty well-proved, and is not surprising as it is pretty much in line with practices in Taiwan on both sides of the political debate – that’s why it was important that he be punished harshly. However, that Chen arranged to have someone shoot him and his vice-president, resulting in significant injury, and then got the perp drowned just to win the election is a somewhat bizarre accusation for which Li and Sisy Chen have no proof whatsoever. That they would make such an accusation without proof reflects badly on them, and casts doubt on the quality of their judgement.

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  20. HAN HAN dropped out of school when he was in elementary school.But Han is good at writing and often criticizes the govt, so he’s famous in China and is liked by young people (esp those children who hate schools) and people who hate society.
    do not argue with old people and kids and women – is Chinese traditional philosophy. it’s just a quote. We usually quote this saying when we want to make ourselves look humorous.

    HAN has many fans in mainland China, most of them are hatred. Li’ao and Sisy Chen (Chen Wenqian) also have many fans in mainland China because they’re well educated, talented, open-minded and smart. Fans from different social classes, so thinking in different ways – That’s all.

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