On October 8, as Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) was announced as the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, I was finishing up a day of meetings in Nanjing. The news, first arrived via CNN news alert, was quickly shared by Chinese Twitter users, who bypassed web controls to share the story. The news also came through on China’s Twitter-like microblogs, but references were oblique.
Sitting in my Nanjing hotel room that night, I kept tabs on domestic microblogs and the reacation to the announcement on my laptop while I monitored Twitter on my Blackberry. Before long, there were reports on Twitter that plans for various celebrations in China were being stopped by police. Some Chinese had reportedly been taken away by police, and their whereabouts were unclear.
In totalitarian states in the past, dissidents met under a veil of secrecy. But here I was following the actions of these strangers in different part of China in real time without ever setting foot outside. In the age of microblogs, every mobile handset and computer is a news broadcast station, a node in a vast information network. Thanks to new technologies, information can now pass easily across national boundaries, both tangible and intangible, and reach millions of people.
Beijing leaders have blamed blame Liu’s winning the Nobel Prize on so-called hostile anti-China forces overseas. But the uncomfortable truth is that the Chinese government itself was the most formidable nominee for Liu.
On Christmas Day last year, a Beijing court sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison, turning the dissident into a martyr for the cause of human rights — and an instant favorite for the Nobel.
Last month, Geir Lundestad of the Norwegian Nobel Institute arly last month, told the Guardian: “We’ve studied this for several years: Who are the right dissidents? We felt, obviously, that Liu was very important in his own right . . . But the Chinese government solved the problem for us. On 25 December 2009, they sentenced him to 11 years in prison. And automatically, he became not only one, or perhaps the leading representative of human rights but he also became a universal symbol of human rights.”
Liu is a moderate who has in the past advocated dialogue with the Beijing government and non-violent opposition. An advocate of Western ideas of freedom and democracy, he is not a figure without controversy, and there has been much debate both inside and outside China about his ideas and writings.
But the relentless repression of China’s government makes debates over Liu’s ideas an intellectual exercise. Liu Xiaobo has become a symbol of resistance against suppression of speech and abuse of power. Liu represents the common human pursuit for freedom of expression, human rights and rule of law.
Beijing has not only turned Liu Xiaobo into a hero, it has also suffered a major defeat over the issue of the Nobel Prize, an important battleground for soft power.
In its callous response to the prize, the government has rubbed salt into its wounded international image.
With the whole world watching, China has suppressed Liu’s supporters. It has ordered strict controls on the issue in mainstream media and online, and silence now reigns over China’s internet. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, has been kept under house arrest and prevented from communicating with the outside world. All of this in total defiance of the law.
The government has prevented lawyers and academics from leaving their homes, meeting with reporters or holding meetings. Some have been taken away by force, without reasons given or warrants served. The list of those suffering this brutal treatment seems to lengthen all the time: Cui Weiping (崔卫平), Teng Biao (滕彪), Xu Youyu (徐友渔), Yu Jie (余杰), Li Xiong (黎雄)…
China has sent diplomatic notes to Western nations, warning them against taking part in December 10 awards ceremony for the Peace Prize. The vice-minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cui Tiankai (崔天凯) said support for Liu Xiaobo would be an “affront to China’s legal system.”
Begging their pardon, but it not an affront to China’s legal system for Chinese citizens to be placed under house arrest and police surveillance?
The media outside China have overwhelmingly hailed the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu.. But there are also critical voices. .In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post ran an editorial by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology professor Barry Sautman and Hong Kong Polytechnic University professor Yan Hairong (严海蓉), which argued that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xia went against the spirit of the prize itself.
In the Nation in the US, Robert Dreyfuss argued that while giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo increased international attention to the suppression of dissident voices and freedom of expression in China, it might also lead to stronger anti-China voices and an irrational fear of China’s rise.
In the online Comment is Free section of the Guardian, Nick Young wrote a piece titled “Liu Xiaobo wins Prize, reform loses” the day after the Nobel announcement, arguing that Liu’s win was a loss for China’s “painful and precarious” reforms. Nick Young lived for years in Beijing, where he published the highly respected China Development Brief (CDB), In 2008, the newsletter was shut down for unknown reasons. Young was forced to leave China shortly afterwards.
In a normal society, open debates and the clashes of ideas is an ordinary and familiar process. Throught debtes, society forges consensus, seeking common ground while keep differences. But the uncompromising attack launched by China’s government in response to Liu’s Nobel award has stifled even those voices (inside and outside China), that might otherwise have expressed their own misgivings about the decision. In this sense, Beijing’s clamorous counterattacks have actually encouraged the relative one-sidedness than can now be seen in international public opinion over this issue.
Conservative elements within the Chinese Communist Party are the most serious enemies to China’s interests and those of the Party. I call them “conservative elements” because I can’t believe that the higher levels of the CCP leadership are so completely devoid of people who understand the mechanisms of international politics, public diplomacy and foreign relations.
An open letter to the Central Committee of the CCP in mid-October demanding that it correct the “illegal and wrong verdict” in the Liu Xiaobo case was signed by many former Party officials. I’m confident there are people within the CCP who support the criticisms made by these Party elders, who said the verdict against Liu perverted the administration of justice and blackened the image of the Party’s reform and opening policy.
I prefer to think that this is a momentary loss for the more rational and enlightened minds within the CCP, and that this is why we’ve lately seen the “left” hold sway, paving the way for the savage and shameful behavior we’ve seen recently from China on the international stage.
I am gratified in Liu winning the Nobel, and I hope he can soon return home and be reunited with Liu Xia.
But as a Chinese person — a Chinese who grew up under British colonial rule and spent more than two decades away in the United States — I also feel deep sadness. I can’t bear to watch as my country acts before the world with such contempt for reason and such scorn for the rule of law, forfeiting all human respect and even the most basic social grace.