Meaningful Mobility and the Ties That Bind:
1988 as Postsocialist Road Story

By Laurence Coderre

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 26, no.2 (Fall 2014), pp. 1-37

Han Han – media figure and provocateur – has been closely tied to the market and its increasing importance in the People’s Republic of China since he first burst onto the literary scene in 1999. As a high school dropout, popular blogger, racecar driver, author, and now filmmaker, Han has excelled at playing the disaffected outsider, taking on entrenched interests. But this article suggests that Han Han is at his best when addressing the impact of the very same postsocialist market with which he himself is so closely identified, as he does in his novel 1988: I Want to Talk with the World (2010). This study examines the ways in which 1988 plays with the generic conventions of the road story, specifically with expectations concerning mobility and camaraderie, and argues that the novel constitutes a deft critique of contemporary Chinese marketization and its impact on social relationships. Even as Han Han problematizes the world around him, however, he has no interest in setting himself apart from that world. He critiques the market even as he unashamedly profits from his media stardom and promotes his novel as a hot commodity. Han Han revels in these contradictions in 1988, and in doing so, he provides the reader not with the promise of a utopian alternative, but rather with a (temporary) means of coping with the instability that seems to characterize the Chinese postsocialist condition.