There is no doubt that China moves to the beat of it’s own drum. Highly publicized state-controlled media and internet censorship. It’s part of what makes modern China, well, China. It’s an accepted fact for any visitor to the Communist state that short of using a Virtual Private Network to access your favorite sites, you won’t be able to get on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter and won’t be able to research online about uglier parts of Chinese history or individuals the government deems dangerous, like the Dalai Lama or, say the now famous Liu Xiaobo, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
While reports state that China had been trying to keep this news from spreading from within it’s borders, Xinhua, its official state-run news agency, appears to have embarked on an English-language smear campaign against the Nobel Commitee, even going so far to suggest that the prize might hurt Chinese-Norwegian relations!
A couple of weeks ago, I came across this fascinating Xinhua article, boasting that the prize “goes against Nobel’s ideas.” They cite that Nobel’s wishes were that the Peace Prize go to indivdual(s) that “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” With this evidence, they state that it is completely illegitimate and a slap in the face of the Chinese government to give this award to someone who is a criminal against Chinese law. How dare the Nobel Committee put Mr. Liu in the same grouping as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela?
As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but think back on a certain past Nobel laureate from Myanmar…Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently in her 14th year of house arrest out of the past 20. When she was awarded the Peace Prize in 1991 for her struggle against her country’s military rulers, I would be willing to bet that the Burmese generals also cried blasphemy. But today, I don’t think anyone else in the world would argue that giving her that award was a mistake. Nor do I think that anyone outisde of China would consider it a mistake to award a Peace Prize to the current Dalai Lama!
Last week, Thorbjorn Jagland, the Chairman of the Norweigan Nobel Committee, pushed back in an Op-Ed piece that The New York Times printed. In it, he explained how, as a member of the United Nations, China has an obligation to give basic human rights to its citizens and that is what Mr. Liu is struggling for. With that in mind, he asks, how can you not make a comparison to the struggle of Martin Luther King?
Having recently spent two months in China at the height of their “political season” and seen first hand their skewed take on the news, I find this whole affair to be fascinating. Will it bring change? Who knows? After all, China has been one to ignore international pressure. At the very least though, I hope this has opened up a dialogue, especially with some of those bright, young Chinese nationals I met who were quite worldly in their views! And with a new generation of political thought, who knows what the future may bring?