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Translation: What Travesty does the Award of the Nobel to Liu Xiao Bo Reveal?

Here is a translation of an op-ed from a Chinese blog about Liu’s Nobel that we at FM found interesting.

So here goes the news again: Public Enemy Number One in China, Liu Xiao Bo, has been awarded the Nobel Prize!  Not sure where that infamous title of Liu came from.  But this latest Nobel prize must be giving people in the U.S. quite a laugh.

The award of a Nobel to Liu is certainly controversial. Allegedly, the Nobel committee itself was internally divided. But given Liu’s high profile conviction last year, this decision is not totally unexpected. I originally did not plan to write about Liu. However, given the renewed and widespread interest of Liu’s Nobel, I have decided to wade in with my thoughts. Here is a translation of what a typical report in the West is like.

For people who are against the Chinese government, the award of Liu’s Nobel is great news. The Nobel not only represents a great boost to the morale of human rights activists around the world, but also brought shame to the Chinese Communist Party. Unfortunately, judging by the Chinese government’s strong adverse response, few expects there to be any political change anytime soon.

The Chinese government has decided to censor news of Liu’s winning of the Nobel. During the middle of routine broadcast programs of CNN and BCC programs, the screen went blank. Few uninitiated were thus able to learn about Liu’s prize.

The recognition and respect given by the Nobel to Liu has hit a sore spot in the Chinese government. First it was the Dalai Lama, now it is Liu. The Nobel has given both international recognition and prestige. For the Chinese government, it has created another diplomatic embarrassment and headache.

While censorship will not be successful in preventing people from learning about Liu, many people in China today don’t know about Liu. Who is this successor of President Obama – the previous Nobel Peace Laureate? Censorship may push discussion of Liu from the public spotlight, but it will not prevent people from discussing the truth of what Liu has revealed.

The prize has now boosted the morale of the signatories of Charter 08 – now probably numbering some ten thousand – but also lawyers fighting for justice and rule of law, and environmentalists throughout China.

The government has responded fiercely in opposition of the award. According to the government, Liu has broken the law and has been sentenced to prison by a court of law. To award the prize to such a person is totally against the principle of the Nobel. The award will stain the prize itself for a long time to come.

The Chinese Communist Party will fight hard to persevere

The recognition given to Liu should send to Chinese Communist Party a strong signal. The truth is obscenely clear: China is still a weak and backward country. It does not even observe Universal Human Rights.

Despite promises upon promises that political reforms will follow economic reforms, the party officials continue to take the position that basic principles of democratic elections, the independence of the judiciary, and freedom of speech are not fit for China.

The only reforms allowed are limited to reforms within the party, reforms that consolidate party power: fewer corruption, fewer government interferences, more efficiency.

For many human rights activists throughout the world and in China, last Friday was a rare day of celebration. Of course, no one dared to hope that change would arrive soon. After all, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest in Myanmar. The Dalai Lama remains exiled, unable to bring about any change for his Tibet.

Chinese leaders Hu and Wen have strongly objected to the Prize. They would predictably point to China’s growth, stability, and lifting of millions out of poverty – yet they have let a rights fighter like Liu sit in jail.

Alas, the prize may have come too late. The government has already dug in and is entrenched in upholding Liu’s excessive sentence. The travesty has little to do with what Liu did, but the excessive sentence he has to serve.

Ultimately the above perspective is to be expected. With their economies still in doldrums, many European nations have come to eye recent Chinese economic growth with jealousy. And the prize provides them an opportunity for self congratulations. China is a weak and backward country. They don’t respect human rights. When Westerners look at China today, their perspective begins with 19th century. First  by guns and violence, later waving the flag of human rights, Westerners seem to want to suppress China at all costs. For them, it is not relevant whether Chinese people improve the circumstances that surround their daily livelihood. It is not important whether people are lifted out of poverty. Their ideological position seen to be torn from an anachronistic page from the cold war; even I, as someone who is typically critical of the government, feel manipulated and abused. Whether such attitudes stem from genuine misunderstandings or calculated conniving is hard to say. In the same breath, they light a fire to Chinese people’s genuine yearning for reform and douse it by calling Chinese people as “backward” and “brainwashed.” They pursue realist, zero-sum, geopolitical games under the empty rhetoric of “freedom” and “human rights.”

I believe most Chinese people in their heart understand what China has gone through to be where it is today. Westerners (including even many Chinese) have forgotten that China used to represent for the world a beacon of light – of a just, enlightened, harmonious power from the 16th – 18th century. But from the 19th century forward, with guns, steel, and cannons, Westerners soon came to regard China as backward. In the new game, it does not matter what China stands for. As long as China does not submit to the West, the West will never acknowledge China.

But what does China stand for? In the economic sphere, there is shallow capitalism. Politically, there is communism? You must be kidding. Communism as practiced today is already captured by special economic interest groups. The Chinese government has become the laughing stock of the world. The fact that it wields so little influence on the international stage is a direct result of its corrupted shying away from taking substantive political reforms. It knows only of censorship and control. It is so weak that it cannot take on simplistic and false ideologies such as “freedom.” It cannot taken on even second rate intellectuals such as Liu Xiao Bo. It must hide behind vague notions of stability and harmony. It concedes notions of “Civil Liberties” and “Universal Values” to be defined in terms of Western notions of “freedom” and “liberty.” Isn’t true universal right a government that can provide for the people? Chinese political and philosophical thought has a long and enlightened history. It complements Western political thoughts well. Yet today’s politicians have botched things up. They have forgotten that politicians are supposed to be just, enlightened, and compassionate. They are supposed to serve the people. How can our leaders talk about justice, virtue, and compassion when they are neither just, virtuous, nor compassionate?

There is no denying that the Nobel for Liu has hit a raw nerve for the government. But the prize hurts not because of Liu’s empty call for “freedom” or “human rights,” but because of the dilapidated state and impotence of Chinese political thought in this early period of the 21st century. Our dilapidation can be seen everywhere: from our taking anti-Chinese writings on facebook and youtube as basic political teaching materials, to our artists relying on movies such as those about Yi He Yuan to capture their imagination of the Chinese Renaissance, to our artists finding expressions only through one dimensional vocabularies of passion and oppression, to our college students and farmers relying on  money to assess their self worth, to our local officials and police making their careers at the expense of ordinary people, to the media outdoing each other in a relentless pursuit of sensationalism and mind-numbing entertainment. Our dilapidated state is the real indictment against our current state of affairs.

True enlightenment and political wisdom can be found in our bookstores, our libraries, the great human traditions from all around the world. But from our leaders to the most ordinary of our citizens, no one appears to care about these things in their daily life. This is the great travesty of Chinese society as revealed by Liu’s Nobel prize.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Fool’s Mountain: Blogging for China

  1. October 13th, 2010 at 16:32 | #1

    Excellent translation, Allen. I think the resurgence of Chinese culture and wisdom of the past grows proportional to China’s wealth. In that sense, I am completely optimistic. One of the reasons to blog for me is to rediscover the Chinese past.

    Here is another take in similar vein by a student in the Chinese Classics department at Renmin University:

    BEIJING – For most Chinese intellectuals, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo is a puzzling choice. Liu, who is serving 11 years in prison for subversion of state power, is being honored internationally as a human rights pioneer. But in China, he is seen as a sell-out to the West, embracing Western values at the expense of Chinese culture.

    Once an admired avant-garde figure of contemporary literature and political thought, Liu has long since fallen into the extremist fringe of Chinese intellectual life.

    In the literary and art circles of China in the late 1980s, Li Zehou and Liu Xiaobo were the two most influential figures, expressing opposite viewpoints that aroused a firestorm in political ideology. Their clash centered on the extent to which China should adopt Western values and lifestyles. The philosopher Li advocated a merging and coexistence between Chinese and Western cultures, while Liu launched a scathing critique of the Chinese classical tradition.

    It seems strange that the global media should refer to Liu Xiaobo as “the first Chinese Peace laureate,” since he adamantly rejects the culture of the land of his birth. According to his own account, Liu reinvented himself as a child of Europe. His dream has come true, now that the Nobel Committee recognizes him as one of their own.

    Liu won instant fame with his improvised speech, “The Crisis of New Age Literature,” given at a literature conference in 1986. In it, he boldly denied the value of rationality and collective consciousness, arguing instead for personal sentiment and individualism. From that point on, his articles went farther to devalue China’s traditions while promoting the culture of the West.

    His writings appealed to intellectuals in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and struck a sympathetic chord in academia. With new admirers and foes, Liu quickly made his mark as the “Manchurian Tiger” and “Dark Horse” of contemporary literature.

    He demonstrated a mastery of Western philosophy, psychology and sociology. In “Naked Approach to God: Aesthetics and Subconscious,” Liu cites Freud’s psychoanalytical structures of id, ego and superego to warn of the hazards of rationality to an essentially irrational human nature.

    Freedom, he argues, can be realized only though immediate perception — concepts similar to those of Romanticism and later the hippie movement in the West.

    A pioneer in the period when China made contact with the external world, Liu veered into fanaticism with his uncritical adoption of Western modern thought.

    In his essay “The Tragedy of Enlightenment: Critique of the May Fourth Movement,” he argued that the May Fourth Movement — a major student-led protest in 1919 — failed because its leaders did not adopt wholesale the Westernization required to modernize China. The essay turned out to be a premonition of the ideological debates among the student factions during the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

    In Liu’s world view, Western values are perfection, while China is hopelessly backward. Everything Chinese must be broken down. Only through demolition can the quintessential human spirit be rescued and elevated.

    Liu led a scorched-earth campaign against Confucianism and Taoism. His arguments, reminiscent of the radical anti-traditionalism of the Cultural Revolution, assailed the values of community in Confucianism for depriving individuals of democratic rights. Chinese traditional values, he said, serve to idolize the powerful elite so that people willingly surrender their rights.

    His image of himself is one of a savior, a modern-day Moses, who will deliver the Chinese people out of China and into the Western world. Along his path of deliverance, however, Liu sinks into contradiction by trying to replace one tradition with another. Like a convert to a foreign religion, he worships a pantheon of foreign saints — Rousseau, Freud, Nietzsche and Sartre — while demonizing classic Chinese thinkers like Confucius and Lao Tzu, and even modern revolutionists like Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong.

    Across the developing world today, including in China, intellectual leaders are proposing new theories that stress indigenous modernization efforts rather than lessons from former colonial masters. Progress and democracy are being built not on the basis of cultural self-hatred, but on the foundation of the legacies left to us by our ancestors.

    Certainly there remains a need for radicals to challenge our nation’s past. Yet Liu Xiaobo failed China by rejecting the genuine achievements of its civilization and culture, thereby deeply offending Chinese pride. The Chinese take their traditions quite seriously when dealing with an offending critic.

    For Liu the Nobel laureate, the larger tragedy was not so much a prison sentence as it is his own inability to recognize the treasures behind the veil of the Chinese classics.

    Channa Li is a student in the Chinese Classics department at Renmin University, specializing in Tibetan language and literature.

  2. Otto Kerner
    October 13th, 2010 at 18:29 | #2

    “even I, as someone who is typically critical of the government, feel manipulated and abused.”

    This guy seems to think that this is an exceptional combination, which is weird. To be critical of the government is one thing, and to be suspicious of foreigners is something quite different. There’s no reason you can’t do both. Indeed, many Chinese bloggers provide just such an example. And yet, they seem to surprise themselves.

  3. October 13th, 2010 at 18:59 | #3

    First of all, there’s no need to be overly pessimistic about the future of democracy in China. It’s only been seven decades since the May Fourth Movement began, compared to the three centuries that it took for science to be accepted, so there’s no call for complete despair.

    Second, the basic principles and standards of modernization and democratization are like those of science — universally applicable. In this regard there’s no Eastern or Western standard, only the difference between ‘backward’ and ‘advanced’, between ‘correct’ and ‘mistaken’.

    Third, the chief obstacle to the modernization and democratization of Chinese culture lies in the same erroneous idea that kept science out of China for so many years: the theory of China’s ‘unique characteristics’, in all its variations.

    Fang Lizhi, April 1989

  4. October 13th, 2010 at 19:40 | #4


    ‘democracy’ cannot be viewed like religion. I think there are many good ideas in the various forms of democracy as practiced today, and to be fair, China is implementing bunch of them in China – for example, local elections.

    I’d said, China is embracing ‘science’ full-heartedly now. And that’s a good thing. Check out this recently featured post on this blog:

    William Hooper: “The Scientific Development Concept”

    I wouldn’t attack China’s ‘unique characteristics.’ They are: Xun Zi (see “Tsinghua University Professor, Yan Xuetong: “Xun Zi’s Thoughts on International Politics and Their Implications”“), Confucius (see “If Confucius is alive today, he would advise the Western media: “中庸”“), etc.. These are awesome, and to me, they are the answers to a lot of the problems developed countries (and the world as a whole) face today.

    Read William Hooper’s essay on how he ties them all together.

  5. October 13th, 2010 at 21:28 | #5

    An interesting comment about the prize from Barry Sautman:

    the prize is awarded
    not by an international group of specialists in peace studies or human
    rights (Norway alone has quite a number), but by five retired Norwegian
    politicians. These are all white and, presumably, well-off. They
    currently represent the five largest Norwegian political parties, one
    from the left, two from the center-left, and two from the right,
    according to conventional Norwegian characterizations. The two
    right-wing parties and one of the center-left parties are for sharply
    restricting immigration to Norway, at least from outside Europe. The
    head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee has promoted the idea of Norway
    sending more troops to fight in Afghanistan.

    Note should also be taken of the refusal by Jean-Paul Sartre, the most
    renowned French philosopher of the post-WWII era, to accept the Nobel
    Prize in Literature, offered to him in 1964. He stated that Nobel
    prizes in literature and peace were being used as tools of the West in
    the Cold War –not unlike now.

  6. October 15th, 2010 at 04:19 | #6

    « First of all, there’s no need to be overly pessimistic about the future of democracy in China. It’s only been seven decades since the May Fourth Movement began, compared to the three centuries that it took for science to be accepted, so there’s no call for complete despair.

    Second, the basic principles and standards of modernization and democratization are like those of science — universally applicable. In this regard there’s no Eastern or Western standard, only the difference between ‘backward’ and ‘advanced’, between ‘correct’ and ‘mistaken’.

    Third, the chief obstacle to the modernization and democratization of Chinese culture lies in the same erroneous idea that kept science out of China for so many years: the theory of China’s ‘unique characteristics’, in all its variations. »

    Fang Lizhi, April 1989

  7. rolf
    October 16th, 2010 at 03:41 | #7

    Big mistake to award Nobel Peace Prize to noncontributor to peace: interview in Global Times, October 14 2010

    It was a big mistake to grant this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, as the Chinese receiver made no contribution to peace or conflict reduction, a Norwegian professor said Tuesday.

    “Liu Xiaobo has, as far as I know, never contributed in any conflict-reducing activity or taken part in peace-related activities,” Professor Arnulf Kolstad of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology told Xinhua.

    “I therefore cannot see that the peace-prize winner fulfills the most important criteria in Nobel’s testament. Therefore, it is a mistake,” added the professor of social psychology and a China expert himself.

    His idea reflected criticism of the Nobel Committee’s decision, as Liu is a convicted criminal for agitation aimed at subverting the government, who was sentenced to 11 years in jail in late 2009.

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday blasted the awarding as showing “no respect for China’s judicial system,” saying that Beijing questions the “true intention” behind the selection.

    The Nobel Committee “wants to promote Western values all over the world even if the way it is done is not very relevant and even contradictory to the purpose,” Kolstad said.

    The professor explicitly rejected the Norwegian body’s argument that Liu’s struggle for human rights, especially freedom of speech, and a Western parliamentary democratic system in China is a prerequisite to world peace.

    Many countries that have long followed the Western political system, such as the United States, Britain and Norway, have been among the most aggressive military powers in the last 50 years, occupying and starting wars in other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Kolstad noted.

    Ironically, Kolstad said, many in the West still believe that their system is the best in the world and has to be exported to all other countries, “in some countries by force and wars, and in other countries by supporting those who are believed to represent these values and ideas.”

    “To state that parliamentary democracy and freedom of speech are a guarantee for peace and the end of armed aggression is a mistake,” he said.

    Commenting on the Nobel Committee’s claim that it is independent of political influence, the professor said, “There is definitely relationship to the official political system in Norway.” He noted that the committee leader is also a former Norwegian prime minister and president of the Parliament.

    China has made remarkable progress in human rights, such as plugging starvation, curbing crimes and promoting food safety, which are “important not only for a developing and still poor country like China, but for developed countries as well,” Kolstad said. “In this way, the Western world can learn human rights from China.”

    Meanwhile, China carries a “relational” culture where people seek relationships and harmony and are less inclined to stay out as independent and autonomous human beings than those in Western societies, Kolstad said.

    It is also simply unfair to label China as an undemocratic country, he stressed, explaining that China adopts “another kind of relationship between those in power and the people.”

    “The parliamentary system with more parties is not the only way to give people influence on political decisions and the future of their country. We have to accept that other countries choose other political and democratic solutions based on their culture and level of development,” he said.

    “I do not know if it is more democratic to have a system where presidential candidates have to be extremely rich to run for presidency,” he added.

    Lurking underneath the West’s uneasiness and faultfinding with China, Kolstad pointed out, is that many in the West do not like to see a big and in many ways successful country like China having another political system, based on other cultural values than what are accepted in the West.

    “I look at China as a peaceful, not aggressive, country compared with most developed countries in the world. China does not take part in wars; it tries to solve international problems with dialogue,” he said. “I therefore think it is unfair to give a Peace Prize to the opposition and dissidents in China instead of giving it to the president, as in the US.”


  8. rolf
    October 16th, 2010 at 04:05 | #8

    ltlee1 at hotmail.com

    Since the 17th century, many westerners had traveled to China. They
    wanted to change China.

    “The Westerners had presented their expertise as the wrapping round an
    ideological package, however, and had tried to force the Chinese to
    accept both together. It was this that the Chinese had refused to
    tolerate, even at their weakest, they sensed that accpetance of a
    foreign ideology on foreign terms must be a form of submission. This
    common pride and common wariness linked men as disparate as the
    pioneer anti-Christians Shen Ch’ueh and Yang Kuang-hsien, the
    nineteenth century statemen Lin Tse-hsu and Tseng Kuo-fan, and the
    bitter rivals Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung.” (TO CHANGE CHINA by Jonathan D Spence)

    Why did these people want to change China?
    In Jonathen Spence’s word, these people, besides their desire to make
    China more like the West, they want “to prove their own significance.”
    By what rights did they want to change China?

    Answer: Their sense of superiority. Again from Jonathan Spence:
    “It would be absurd to claim tht this means of superiorty has totally
    vanished, even though absolute faith in the rightness of Western
    methodologies and goals was shattered for most Europeans in the year
    after the Second World War and has been seriously shaken in the United
    States in the years following the Vietnam war.”

    Globalization seems to make more people want to change China. The
    Nobel Peace Prize is the latest episode.

  9. r v
    November 7th, 2010 at 13:16 | #9

    The great tragedy of Nobel is all of its irony.

    A prize for peace, named after a man who invented the dynamite.

    A prize for peace, given to those who live for controversies and conflict.

    Do they count for the conflicts they resolved or the conflicts they started? Or merely the policies that might win a beauty contest, regardless of the cost?

    The Nobel committee was truthful, that they said “China decided for them.”

    It was not “peace” or some other ideal that they cannot define, but “China”, which they could take a popular stand against.

    In that, they are so fitting to their own Western Myopia. Not knowing their own way, deciding the popular from sounds of their friends and enemies.

    I have never known a Peace so affected by politics as in the Nobel Peace prize.

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