Chinese writer Han Han sues anti-fraud crusader Fang Zhouzi over ghostwriting claims

Updated:Fri, Feb 3, 2012 21:14 PM   By Bernd Chang

Han Han,Fang Zhouzi

Fang Zhouzi (left), known for exposing academic fraud, has questioned the work of Han Han, one of the best-selling writers in China. Han is suing over Fang's stated suspicion that Han's works were ghostwritten.

Best-selling Chinese author and race car driver Han Han is set to take anti-fraud crusader Fang Zhouzi to court for accusing Han of using a ghostwriter for much of his work.

 

February 3, 2012, Shanghai - Official Weibo of Xinhua News Agency says today that Han Han has handed in suing materials to People's Court of Putuo District. The court will give a response in seven working days telling whether the lawsuit will be handled or not. And Han Han wrote on his blog today that "he will not response any more concerning the ghostwriting incident" and he thinks that he has more to do while oral fight is meaningless.

It’s been an exciting two weeks on China’s microblog scene. China's top blogger, rally racer, and novelist Han Han has been defending himself against anti-fraud crusader and self-claimed "science cop" Fang Zhouzi’s charges that he has a ghostwriter for his most famous works.

Han Han (韩寒) closed out 2011 with a trio of overtly political blog posts in which he laid out his views on revolution, democracy, and freedom. Critics and supporters alike were surprised by the conservative stance exhibited in the three essays, which seemed to be at odds with Han Han’s track record of championing the rights of the general public against the selfish interests of the wealthy and corrupt. Among the surpise and suspicion, a ghostwriting charge sparked the giant flame war that consumed Chinese social media during the Spring Festival holiday week and culminated in a lawsuit.

The quarrel was started by Mai Tian, an IT commentator on 15 January, who published an article on his blog, which claimed that the image of Han Han as a public intellectual was created by his father Han Renjun(韩仁均) and publisher Lu Jinbo(路金波).

Mai claimed Han, a professional rally driver, wrote many of his books and blogs during periods when he was taking part in driving events.

Han Han’s early replies were entertaining in their earnestness and snarky vulgarity. He provided a straightforward account of his blog-writing habits to explain how he could post in between race events, and then flipped Mai Tian’s reasoning around to cast aspersions on his sexual prowess. He offered a 20 million yuan purse and the copyrights to his entire oeuvre as a reward anyone giving conclusive proof of having ghostwritten for him. His friend and Chinese super actress Fan Bing Bing(范冰冰) offered another 20 million to the reward.

Lack of concrete evidence, Mai Tian apologized to Han Han and Han accepted his apology.

Jan 18th, Fang Zhouzi(方舟子), who is known for his campaigns against pseudoscience and various frauds in China, backed up Mai’s suspicions.

Fang Zhouzi, real name Fang Shimin (方是民), who founded the science magazine New Thread(新语丝) and earned a name for exposing the fake academic records of a number of well-known figures, is a tenacious opponent who has an arsenal of online debating tactics at his fingertips. He brings up questions one by one, beginning with minor points that might seem trivial to explain or brush aside, and then when his target takes the bait, he charges in with more evidence showing a pattern of deceit. This technique, which he employed successfully in 2010 to reveal Tang Jun’s (唐骏) worthless diploma as well as in a more recent campaign to completely discredit Luo Yonghao (罗永浩), the founder of the popular blog forum Bullog (牛博), is how he went to work on Han Han.

Concentrating on Han Han’s early work, he raised questions about two essays written for the New Concept writing contest, a first step to national popularity for a number of young writers, including Guo Jingming (郭敬明) and Zhang Yueran (张悦然). Han Han’s participation in the contest was marked by a procedural irregularity: he apparently failed to receive a mailed notification of the second round of the contest and was called in the following day to sit for a special essay topic. Had strings been pulled? Was his first-round essay a fake? The notion that Han Han’s entire literary career might have been built on a lie served as a good starting point. Fang Zhouzi set about picking apart the essay, “Seeing a Doctor” (求医). Here’s one point, which appears to contradict the notion that Han Han wasn’t much of a reader, especially of foreign books:

“Seeing a Doctor” quotes lines from Turgenev’s Father and Sons and Smoke, as well as referencing Freud’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (in English) to support the notion that misreading a name is intended as an insult. “Seeing a Doctor” cites details from two of Turgenev’s novels; having them at one’s fingertips requires one not only to have read the novels but to be fully familiar with them. Clearly, there’s no way it was written by Han Han.

An unwarranted conclusion, according to the findings of Vivo, a textual sleuth (and Han Han foe) who tracked down both Turgenev references to a footnote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life; the 1988 edition of the Chinese translation includes the title in English on the cover.

Han Han himself wrote up several posts that explained the circumstances behind the composition of the controversial pieces and sent sarcastic barbs back at Fang Zhouzi. His father, Han Renjun (韩仁均), contributed a few blog posts as well. Fang Zhouzi seized on details in these accounts and played the role of cross-examiner to attack the credibility of Han Han and his father by pointing out inconsistencies in their “testimony” (口供), and then went further: the setting is more consistent with the late 70s than mid 90s, and the symptoms described point to hepatitis rather than the scabies ultimately diagnosed. Therefore, Han Renjun (who as it happens published a few short essays under the name “Han Han” before turning it over to his newborn son) is the true author.

On January 29, Lu Jinbo (路金波), Han's agent, wrote on his microblog account that the 30-year-old highly popular novelist and blogger Han Han was filing a lawsuit against Fang, demanding an apology and 100,000 yuan (HK$122,800) in damages. And Han Han had gathered a thousand manuscript pages to demonstrate that he alone had written his books and essays, Han Han pledged to bring out a facsimile volume of the original manuscript of his debut novel, Triple Door (三重门), for the low-low price of 10 RMB. Other writers voiced concerns about the difficulty of proving authorship. Even the presence of a manuscript isn’t totally convincing: it could easily have been copied off of someone else’s original work.

The issue quickly became a hot topic of discussion among millions of mainland internet users, as Han and Fang are both celebrities who boast hundreds of thousands of fans and supporters.

Fang appeared defiant in the face of impending legal action. After publishing a long blog about the incident, Fang issued a statement saying he had the right to criticise Han, adding that his articles had not damaged Han's reputation.

In addition, Fang claimed that Han and his supporters had instead tarnished his reputation by attacking him publicly and spreading lies about him and his family.

"The lawsuit will hardly have the slightest impact on my intention to further analyse those articles carrying Han's signature," Fang said.

Official Weibo of Xinhua News Agency confirms today that Han Han has handed in suing materials to People's Court of Putuo District. The court will give a response in seven working days telling whether the lawsuit will be handled or not. And Han Han wrote on his blog today that "he will not response any more concerning the ghostwritting incident" and he thinks that he has more to do while oral fight is meaningless.

According to some lawyers, it is very difficult to judge whether a person's works are ghostwritten or not. Nevertheless, whatever the court decision may be, Han Han will not walk away unscathed. After the accusations started, Han once said that he regretted being a writer.

Although Han Han stated publicly that he will bow out of the dispute from now on, it will be a long time before this damaging and attritional war of words comes to an end that is satisfactory to both sides.

 

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