This week, Kaiser Kuo hosts a discussion about China's best-known gadflies: writer and auto racer Han Han, and artist-cum-activist Ai Weiwei. The former writes one of the most popular blogs in China with over 300 million hits, and was recently shortlisted for Time's 100 Most Influential People. The latter is a leading visual artist and has been vocal on a number of social issues, including the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project.
Joined by Austin Ramzy, Beijing-based correspondent with Time magazine, and Will Moss, public relations expert and author of the blog Imagethief, we talk about who both of these public figures are and why they have gained so much attention both inside China and in the foreign press. We also look at how both are perceived domestically and abroad, discuss why they have not been silenced the way other equally vocal critics have been, and ask if it even makes sense to speak of them in the same breath.
We also have contributions from Charlie Custer, publisher of the translation blog China Geeks, and Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, who remembers his first interview with Han Han back in December 2002.
Following this, we close with a quick discussion of the Wangjialing mine flood, focusing on the official handling of the rescue where 115 out of 153 workers trapped in the flooded mine shaft were spectacularly rescued. Although to a government that was strung with bad news and negative PR as a result of mining industry safety failures, the fact that the rescue turned out to be a successful one was a real gift. On the flip side, did the Chinese government market the story to the domestic media too hard? How do we compare this with the mine disaster in West Virginia that happened roughly at the same time?
Han Han: China's Literary Bad Boy, by Simon Elegant
My Pen Pal Han Han, by Raymond Zhou
China and West Virginia: A Tale of Two Mine Disasters, by Austin Ramzy
Chinese Whispers: A Vein of Distrust