Yan and Sautman: “Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for?”
Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for?
Division of Social Science
Hong Kong University of Science Technology
Department of Applied Social Sciences
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
In recent weeks, Nobel prizewinner Liu Xiaobo’s politics have been reduced to a story of a heroic individual who upholds human rights and democracy. His views are largely omitted to avoid a discussion about them, resulting in a one-sided debate. Within three weeks, in Hong Kong, for example, more than 500 articles were published about Liu, of which only 10 were critical of the man or peace prize.
In China, before the award, most people neither knew nor cared about Liu, while, according to Andrew Jacobs, writing in the International Herald Tribune, an “official survey of university students taken since the prize was awarded found that 85% said they knew nothing about Mr Liu and Charter ’08.” A Norwegian Sinologist has elicited comments from Chinese people and indicated that younger Chinese still do not care about Liu. Older Chinese intellectuals are interested in discussing the award, but many do not think Liu is an appropriate recipient.
Imprisoning Liu was entirely unnecessary. If Liu’s politics were well-known, most people would not favour him for a prize, because he is a champion of war, not peace. He has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he applauded the Vietnam and Korean wars retrospectively in a 2001 essay. All these conflicts have entailed massive violations of human rights. Yet in his article Lessons from the Cold War, Liu argues that “The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights … The major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.” During the 2004 US presidential election, Liu warmly praised George Bush for his war effort against Iraq and condemned Democratic party candidate John Kerry for not sufficiently supporting the US’s wars:
[T]he outstanding achievement made by Bush in anti-terrorism absolutely cannot be erased by Kerry’s slandering … However much risk must be endured in striking down Saddam Hussein, know that no action would lead to a greater risk. This has been proven by the second world war and September 11! No matter what, the war against Saddam Hussein is just! The decision by President Bush is right!
Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as “often the provocateurs”.
Liu has also advocated the total westernisation of China. In a 1988 interview he stated that “to choose westernisation is to choose to be human“. He also faulted a television documentary, He Shang, or River Elegy, for not thoroughly criticising Chinese culture and not advocating westernisation enthusiastically enough: “If I were to make this I would show just how wimpy, spineless and fucked-up [weisuo, ruanruo, caodan] the Chinese really are”. Liu considered it most unfortunate that his monolingualism bound him in a dialogue with something “very benighted [yumei] and philistine [yongsu],” the Chinese cultural sphere. Harvard researcher Lin Tongqi noted that an early 1990s book by Liu contains “pungent attacks on the Chinese national character”. In a well-known statement of 1988, Liu said:
It took Hong Kong 100 years to become what it is. Given the size of China, certainly it would need 300 years of colonisation for it to become like what Hong Kong is today. I even doubt whether 300 years would be enough.
Affirming this sentiment in Open magazine in 2006, he added that progress in China depends on westernisation and the more westernisation, the more progress. While his supporters excuse Liu’s pro-colonialism as a provocation, it logically aligns with his support for total westernisation and US-led regime changing wars.
Liu, in his “Charter ’08”, called for a Western-style political system in China and privatisation of all enterprises and farm land. Not surprisingly, the organisations he has headed received financial support from the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy. Studies show, however, that where transitions to electoral democracy occur in countries with low levels of average wealth, the rule of law does not necessarily follow, but instability and low levels of development do. Neither does electoral democracy deliver good governance, nor even sustain itself under such conditions.
Nowhere in the post-communist or developing world has there been the fair privatisation Liu claims to seek. Privatisation in eastern Europe often led to massive thefts of public property by oligarchs and became deeply unpopular, with strong majorities of people in all post-Communist countries wanting its revision. Privatisation is also disliked in India, Latin America and China itself, while studies of privatisation in many parts of the world show it can have a deleterious effect on development. Land privatisation in China would rapidly create land concentration and landless peasants.
Forty years ago, a Nobel prize committee upheld formerly imprisoned writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn as a symbol of freedom against the Soviet regime. As with Liu, it may have been unaware of or chose to ignore Solzhenitsyn’s classically reactionary views: his own version of authoritarianism, an animus toward Jews, denunciation of the US for not pursuing the war in Vietnam more vigorously, condemnation of Amnesty International as too liberal, and support for the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco.
The Nobel peace prize is a prize for politics of certain kind. The Norwegian Nobel Institute director has noted that the Nobel Committee has most often selected “those who had spoken out … against the Communist dictators in Moscow and the dictators in Beijing.” French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre recognized the Nobel prizes’ role in the Cold war and refused to accept one in 1964. He stated: “In the present situation, the Nobel Prize stands objectively as a distinction reserved for the writers of the West or the rebels of the East.” That role has been continued with Liu’s prize.