Literary feuds are not a new phenomenon. When Ernest Hemingway wrote that F Scott Fitzgerald “couldn’t think – he never could”, they predictably fell out. Fyodor Dostoevsky got so upset by one of Ivan Turgenev’s satires that he challenged his fellow Russian to a duel. It didn’t happen, but the pair did not speak for 20 years. And after Maria Vargas Llosa punched Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the face, the two writers didn’t exchange a word for 30 years.
Now China has a blossoming literary feud of its own, courtesy of its two most successful young writers, Guo Jingming and Han Han.
The fuse was touched off again this month by the release of Guo’s new novel, Tiny Times 2.0. The 26 year-old’s book flew off the shelves selling 1.5 million copies in a week. It follows the lives of four Chinese girls, struggling with contemporary life in Shanghai and is a sequel to Tiny Times 1.0 which depicted their time at university.
Guo’s devoted fans are typically the products of the one-child policy and were born after China started its economic reforms. They can identify with Guo’s plots and writing style, and view him as the spokesperson for their own more materialistic culture. A skilled marketer, Guo was China’s richest author in both 2007 and 2008 (when his publishing income hit Rmb13 million). He was second last year and is widely tipped to top the rankings again this year – given he has two other titles set for release (one of which is Tiny Times 3.0).
Han Han, meanwhile, has been highly dismissive of Guo’s work in satirical internet postings, and according to Southern Metropolis Weekly “ridicules” him in his blogs. The 28 year-old is China’s most prominent blogger, with 300 million hits to date, and like Guo, a successful novelist to boot. His debut work Triple Door – published when he was just 19 – sold 2 million copies.
Han, more Byronically, is also a racing driver and is less commercial than Guo. His sense of social responsibility and civic-mindedness has also won him an older audience – his readers include intellectuals in their fifties, as well as the usual teens and twenty-somethings. The New York Times last week called him a “heart-throb” with a gift for “sarcasm and humorous anecdotes”.
But Han’s friend and publisher Lu Jinbo has now called for an armistice. “You should stop scolding Guo,” he told Han. “As two idols, you should try and sympathise with each other.” Professor Zhang Yiwu of Peking University thinks the publishing world is big enough for the two of them, opining that they “cannot destroy each other” anyway.
To be fair, Guo tends to let Han Han do most of the carping. He prefers to focus on his fans instead. In July he organised a marathon book signing that went on till 2am and saw him individually inscribe 15,000 books.
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