By Han Han, edited and translated by Allan H Barr (Simon and Schuster, £8.99)
Writer and race car driver Han Han has always known when to be direct, when to take a roundabout route to his point, and when to avoid it altogether. His blog—China’s most popular, with some half a billion visits—has, over the last five years, tackled China’s social ills and political shortcomings without colliding into the most sensitive topics. To preserve his huge domestic readership, not to mention his skin, he goes full throttle without veering off road.
This Generation, a selection of his blog posts which are best classified as political satire, takes us from before the 2008 Olympics to the end of 2011. Books of blogs (or “blooks”—no, really) are always enjoyable in their immediacy, and this one is funny and insightful.
Reading it, we relive the Chinese boycott of Carrefour after the kerfuffle over the Olympic torch in Paris, when pro-Tibet protestors interrupted the relay. Han Han ridicules such blind nationalism, noting that “from start to finish not a single French person has been involved.” Then there’s the firework that badly damaged China Central Television’s new headquarters (“pure comedy”), and the spate of knife attacks in kindergartens in 2010 (“a government that can’t even keep children from harm doesn’t deserve [its own security guards],” he writes). When a local official is exposed for taking 800,000 yuan (almost £80,000) in bribes over 13 years, Han Han praises him for restraint—“a mere 60,000 yuan a year!”
The book is also a peephole into that savvy, irreverent younger generation—known in China simply as the “post-80s”—to which the title refers. (Let’s qualify that as an educated, internet-using and largely urban younger generation before we get ourselves in a muddle.) Its members were born into this new, consumerist, accelerating China with no memory, and little understanding, of what came before Deng Xiaoping. They are often accused of selfishness and materialism, but can also be the most angrily patriotic. They are single children, facing rising prices and an unbalanced society. And huge numbers of them are online, talking to each other about it all.