The Appeal of Style:
Han Han and Microcultural Contention in Digital China

By Shaohua Guo

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 28, no.2  (Fall 2016), pp. 90-138

This essay critically examines how an entertainment-oriented blogosphere has catalyzed the rise of online opinion leaders who tactically stretch discursive parameters in digital China. This ascendant trend of cultural contention is exemplified by Han Han, a popular “youth writer” and race car driver who has since 2007 metamorphosed into a controversial public intellectual via blogging about current affairs. By engaging in a close reading of Han Han’s blog and the divergent responses the blog evokes, the author argues that Han Han’s particular style of blogging has significantly elevated his cultural status and catalyzed the forging of politically minded citizens. The significance of style in Han Han’s blogging is exemplified by the ways in which formal, linguistic, and interactive elements combine and account for the high consumability of his stardom and blog entries, while providing at the same time a safety valve for Han Han and his supporters to playfully expand discursive parameters. Thus, cultural contention in netizens’ everyday encounters with the Chinese Internet epitomizes a stylistic shift toward serious play and playful seriousness. In this light, the essay departs from scholarly emphasis on the grand narratives of digital contention and deepens understanding of how micro-cultural contention bears significant implications for authoritarian regimes.