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Yan and Sautman: “Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for?”

December 15th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Do supporters of Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo really know what he stands for?

Barry Sautman
Associate Professor
Division of Social Science
Hong Kong University of Science Technology

Yan Hairong
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.

  1. jxie
    December 16th, 2010 at 10:25 | #1

    In the NPP award ceremony speech given by Jagland,

    “Although none of the Committee’s members have ever met Liu, we feel that we know him. We have studied him closely over a long period of time.”

    Personally seriously think he was making that up. They probably heard of Liu long ago, but have never studied him closely. They gave the award to an idealized Chinese dissident, not Liu — well actually deep down they gave the award to themselves, but that’s another story altogether.

    Liu has written a lot in the past 25 years or so. For example this piece of nugget:



    Translation: Hu Ban (his friend’s young son) may not write with a pen. I think letting children remember to write with a pen, is better than letting them learn Chinese in the United States. Our generation cannot get rid of the shackles of Chinese language, and that is fate. I want the next generation to totally stop using the Chinese language. It is a really f’ing ideographical tool invented by a f’ing people.

    Chinese are busy. After three years in prison, it surprises me that the most of my friends are rich now. I do not like it here more, but my memory of suffering cannot allow me to leave, is this self-torturous madness?

    For some reason, the only feeling I have toward Liu is pity. For starter, how can you not appreciate the beauty in a language with verses like 落霞与孤鹜齐飞,秋水共长天一色? Then he is so hopelessly Eurocentrically monotheistic, yet he can’t read, write and speak any of the Western languages. He has been building this perfect humanized Western society in his mind, but he has never been living in one for an extended period as a normal person (making living, raising family, etc.). The worst part is every time he turns around his friends are getting richer and happier, and content with their lives. Pew’s global survey indicates that only 9% of Chinese are dissatisfied with their country’s direction, compared to 60+% to 70+% of the societies Liu longs for – which brings up the question, who really need to believe the idea of Liu and NPP? Certainly not Chinese, if you ask me.

  2. SilentChinese
    December 16th, 2010 at 10:51 | #2

    I was more interesting to read Guardian’s reader comments than the actual peice itself.

    What struck me was almost automatic and universal accusation that this was a propaganda peice.

    and almost universal and cliche refrain that “we should defend his right to say this. “

  3. SilentChinese
    December 16th, 2010 at 11:00 | #3

    On Liu Himself:

    He never grew beyond the 80s.

    In the 80s Chinese intellectual elite, after shell shock of CR and opening to the west, lost its confidence, again, and that a large majority intellectual elite of the country think that only a complete westernization would “save” china.

    Thus “He Shang”, Bo Yang and his “Ugly Chinese”, and almost extreme one sided condemnation at traditional chinese culture and chinese way.

    LXB is part of that generation.

    He has lost touch with the current generation. His ideas are irrelevent, obsolete, and passe, and he knows it. but he is too arrogant and self centered to be self critical. He could not be wrong so everyelse must be right. But inorder to stay relevent, he must agitate. His arrest is probablly his blessing in disguise.

    The Post 80s and 90s generation are much more confident in themselves and in their society and their way of life, they have never experience the hardship and sense of defeat and shock of 60-70-and 80s. so they are not nearly acitic and cynical. theirs is a generally more positive outlook on the country.
    That’s why large majority of younger generation do not know nor care about him, nor would they find his brand of activism and ideology particularly resonating.

    The older liberal intellectuals knows it too, that’s why they are pushing for rather radical reform now, they feel the pulse of country is sliping away from them.

  4. SilentChinese
    December 16th, 2010 at 11:06 | #4

    Also, p.s.

    the argument that he only wants free dom of speech etc (the standard liberal ideological checklist if you will) is pretty much lip-stick on a pig.

    If any one reads hi stuff seriously, He abhors being chinese. He viscerally hates china to its core, for its culture for its ways for its history. There is no need to justify of hide these extreme views with in a frame of contexts. he has consistently stick to this view.

    And he think that and actively advocate the over throwing the current regime will achieve the greatest de-sinification effect on China. that’s why he is advocating what he advocates.

    Should he be in jail for that? he would be irrelevent if he wasn’t!

  5. SilentChinese
    December 16th, 2010 at 11:34 | #5


    I really suggest Hiddenharmonies focus on the recent issue of Kosovo up and center as a new peice.

    besure to include that US post kosovo war has obtained a giant military base in middle of europe in partnership with a pseudo mafia state.

    The core problem is the liberal interventionism ideology itself.

    It has failed miserablly and brought about human horrors in Serbia/Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. front and center and in every living room in the wester world.

    The same type of logic, rehtoric and argument now is being applied in case of Tibet, in case of Taiwan, in how to “Contain/Neuter China”. Nobel Peace Prize, LXB etc.

    How many times and how much misery and failure does it take to show the “Fair-minded” public the horrendous errors of their elites?

    What does it take?

  6. December 16th, 2010 at 11:35 | #6

    jxie, SilentChinese – great comments.

  7. December 16th, 2010 at 17:42 | #7


    Years after that “human rights war” in Kosovo, what do we have?

    Moral/social bankruptcy.

    No wonder we have the mortgage bubble in US, the government is in the habit of putting money on bad loans for many decades.

  8. December 16th, 2010 at 19:26 | #8

    I basically agree with the authors’ critique of the Nobel Peace Prize as an institution. However, this makes me feel more forgiving of Liu Xiaobo. The Nobel Peace Prize is an award that has commended killers like Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, and Yasser Arafat, so nothing you tell me about Liu Xiaobo is really going to shock me. The Peace Prize is basically an award for doing politics that is agreeable to a certain type of European thought. I like it when it rewards someone that I like and I don’t like it when it rewards someone I don’t.

    I don’t feel very confident that I understand the broad trend of 刘晓波思想, but I also don’t care enough to research it more. Liu Xiaobo is in prison for Charter 08 and he received the Peace Prize for being in prison, and that’s good enough for me. I actually agree with Yan and Sautman’s critique of a swift transition to Western-style democracy. I’m not sure who would really be a worse president for China, Hu Jintao or Liu Xiaobo. Neither is very good, but Hu and his friends hold all the cards right now, so it’s important to keep some pressure on them, because they seem to have no interest in improving their political system. The best thing for China would probably be some sort of compromise between what Liu wants and the status quo, but we’re a long way away from the CCP being willing to compromise, so Liu needs all the support he can get. I would support him anyway because he would be good for Tibet.

    As a liberal, I do agree with Liu Xiaobo’s views on privatisation, although I have to admit I had never really thought about his stance on that issue until now. I have thought a bit about the challenges of doing large-scale privatisation right, and it ain’t easy. Post-Communist governments in Europe and their advisers underestimated the scale of the problem. China is a country that does things its own way, so, who knows, maybe they will be the ones to pull off a successful large-scale privatisation.

  9. December 16th, 2010 at 21:40 | #9


    Liu Xiaobo is in prison for Charter 08 and he received the Peace Prize for being in prison, and that’s good enough for me.

    Like I said to you in the past, when it’s night, you’d prefer others to think it’s day. He is a convicted criminal by a Beijing court; also having lost his appeal. He is convicted for attempt to subvert state power.

    Liberals are certainly capable of very liberal views. 😉

  10. December 17th, 2010 at 10:44 | #10

    @SilentChinese #5,

    Yes. We should write about that some time.

    In the mean time, I hope these this video will be helpful.

    In China, click here for Todou version.

  11. SilentChinese
    December 17th, 2010 at 11:36 | #11

    @Allen, Thanks I will watch it later. blocks etc you know.

    Now I am going to say something very inappropriate and Please do not take this out of context:

    When Adolf Hitler got thrown in Jail by the Weimar after his aborted Putsch, he wrote Mein Kempft.

    I could not help but to notice the similarities:

    both has a visceral hatred for commies.
    both do not like the status quo and like to over thrown it. (hitler acted on his while liu essentially called on to)
    both has sympathizers inside and outside the government. and certainly outside of the country.
    both were traumatized by the war. (for liu it was end of cold war and Mr. Adolf was WWI)
    both think the rest of their countryman are weaklings, morally corrupt, materially driven.
    both has an idealized view of themselves as morally superior.
    both want to tramatically change their countries to their idealized version.
    both are sitting in jail for essentially political crimes.
    so up to this point in their respective careers they were very similar. except may be on one point:
    but one was a ultra-nationalist, while the other were essentially the extreme opposite… an ultra-anti-nationalist.

    and I hope the similarities do end now.

    Let me get my free-speech shields up. Now I am ready. please faine your indignations and let the stones of middle class self-righteous moral sentimentalities be thrown at this comment.

  12. silentvoice
    December 17th, 2010 at 16:00 | #12

    Otto Kerner :
    The Nobel Peace Prize is an award that has commended killers like Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, and Yasser Arafat, so nothing you tell me about Liu Xiaobo is really going to shock me.

    You forget Dalai Lama, who kept slaves before he was run out of his palace in Tibet.

  13. December 17th, 2010 at 16:57 | #13


    I will try to show you the shock of logic that you apparently do not see.

    Liu obviously has no idea what he is even talking about, nor does he believe in human rights or individual rights.

    In fact, he doesn’t even understand “Western Democracy”.

    You think a man who truly understand “Western Democracy” would for 1 minute think that unpopular wars like Vietnam War, Bush Jr’s Wars actually make good sense?

    *Indeed, if I should compare, I compare Liu to the Neo-Con’s and Tea-Partiers who drape themselves in flags and call for assassination of Wikileak founder.

    No. Liu doesn’t deserve the Peace Prize, NOT merely because others didn’t know what he really stood for, but also because he himself didn’t understand what he was standing for.

    He might write the words “Democracy” and “human rights” MILLIONS of times, doesn’t mean that he understood those words.

    Let’s just say that if Liu had a choice, he might have given the Peace Prize to Bush Jr.. Which in my book, (and many other people’s books), would disqualify Liu himself as a candidate.

    Incidentally, that might be consistent to Nobel’s history of awarding to people who have no sane opinions about Peace, including the Dalai Lama, who also supported Bush’s Wars.

    *Shocking? Perhaps not.

    But hey, let’s at least call it for what it REALLY is, the NOBEL WAR PRIZE!

  14. SilentChinese
    December 19th, 2010 at 08:30 | #14


    Thanks for the video.

    This idea and this pattern of behavior is nothing new.

    In fact the very first democracy, the very idealized example of western democratic state, Athens, is a perfect example of such. In fact , If one reads any relevent history of pelopenesian war, you will find all elements of such behavior:

    *aggressive toppling of unfavorable regimes.
    *military domination through use of overwhelming military power and coherced alliances.
    and most critical of all:
    *the underlying doctrine that any thing one than a subservient state in its mold is a existential threat to athens itself.

    Sparta, was not a democracy, nor was it a dictator/tyranny as many of today would have thought of it, it was a timocracy, a rule of the honour. may be the new pelopenesian war will be between a meritocracy and democracy?

    I think I will write a contemporary parallel between that age and today, there are so many parallels.

  15. SilentChinese
    December 19th, 2010 at 08:34 | #15

    raventhorn2000 :

    You think a man who truly understand “Western Democracy” would for 1 minute think that unpopular wars like Vietnam War, Bush Jr’s Wars actually make good sense?

    actually I think Vietnam and Bushie’s war fits perfectally in the pattern of “Western Democracy”.
    (of course not in the same sense as Mr. Liu understood them to be).
    Aggressive foreign regime toppling wars is what “Western democracy” inevitablly does.

  16. Lotus Yee Fong
    December 20th, 2010 at 23:00 | #16

    Unfortunately, those like Liu who would like to see political modernization of a socialist market China in a globalized economy dominated by extremist free market capitalism, should not mimic in indiscriminate fashion what appears as utopian Western democracy, but rather they should look to Sun Yat-sen’s call for democracy and science, in the context of history, culture and conditions appropriate to China during the current world financial crisis where contemporary conflict calls for U.S. and NATO containment of China and Russia, in the competition for resources in a climate change-challenged world whose populations deserve the right to self-determination of their political and economic systems, not militarily-forced adherence to neoliberal Washington consensus driven by the hollowed-out American dollar.

  17. nic
    December 22nd, 2010 at 02:02 | #17

    It is certainly true that most people in Europe have no idea of what Liu Xiaobo is standing for. I think one of the reasons (definitely not the only one) for that lies in China herself, and the way informations about China are (often not) available in a reliable way.

    If people all over the world want to learn about what’s going on in Europe, they can find tons of quite reputable information sources — facts and opinions from all parts of the sociopolitical spectrum. Not all of it has the same amount of credibility, and some boulevard media (think Fox TV, for example) are more of a curse than a blessing. But once you know your way around, you can find dependable sources of information in several different languages about what is going on, and how major parts of the society relate or react to it. At the very least, you can find different sources that allow you to gather different views on an issue and then puzzle together your own picture of what might be really going on.

    If people all over the world want to learn about what’s going on in China — in terms of facts, opinions, sociopolitical developments — what reliable, credible sources to they have? In many of the publicly visible media, even statements of the premier are being censored. And, yes, I have seen CCTV International. Let’s say I found it to offer an interesting perspective.

    What I think would be very helpful for the international public to better understand what is going on in China, would be a Chinese news source that is independent of the executive branch of the Chinese government (but working, of course, in the framework of the Chinese constitution). A source that does not scream and shout like Fox or ‘The Real News Network’ but gives reliable information about what is going well, and what is going not so well.

    Once such a source had been established as a place that really gives praise where praise is due and critique where critique is due, portraits of Chinese persons (like Liu) published in this place would receive a lot of visibility at least among those people in the West who care about what happens outside their village. Like international journalists, who then explain to their readership and viewers what is going on in the world.

    Of course, there are media in the West which are not even interested in writing anything critical about Chinese ‘dissidents’. But as indicated above, these do not represent the whole spectrum of the western public. At the moment, even those who are interested in a ‘neutral’, ‘factual’ information often have difficulty to gather some basic information.

  18. guest2
    December 22nd, 2010 at 02:09 | #18

    Or learn to read Chinese. 🙂

  19. spectral
    December 22nd, 2010 at 14:30 | #19

    “As a liberal, I do agree with Liu Xiaobo’s views on privatisation, although I have to admit I had never really thought about his stance on that issue until now. I have thought a bit about the challenges of doing large-scale privatisation right, and it ain’t easy. Post-Communist governments in Europe and their advisers underestimated the scale of the problem. China is a country that does things its own way, so, who knows, maybe they will be the ones to pull off a successful large-scale privatisation.”

    Stunningly sleazy statement! Typical for colonialist era of someone with perverted and twisted logic. It nothing there what you call “underestimated” when you are dealing with IMF, WB or EBRD or any western organization. Simply, there are looters, that is the fact of life.

    “I have to admit I had never really thought about his stance on that issue”
    of course, yes, you did. You won’t admit that. In order to enrich yourself you would burn anything where you step in. You are grow up and raised in that way, capitalism do not socialize people properly. This statement is typical for liberals, relativization and more relativization of events – looting and buying at garage sale price. I am from East Europe and I’ve seen witn my eyes.

    I do hate western liberals.

  20. Josef
    December 22nd, 2010 at 18:13 | #20

    @Otto Kerner: there is no reasonable discussion on this blog HH anymore. Just yelling back without content, like yinyang did in his immediate answer to you. You can also check on FOARP’ comment #39 in “how to fix Western-Chinese Relations” or Allen’s answer #62 to me in “Peaceful rise..” Forget it!

  21. December 22nd, 2010 at 22:54 | #21


    When you feel you can make a stronger argument, you can always come back.


  22. December 22nd, 2010 at 22:56 | #22


    Extreme liberals and extreme conservatives are two sides of the same coin.

  23. December 22nd, 2010 at 22:56 | #23


    How can you make such a ridiculous statement after having read Spectral’s comment in #19? His even tone, authoritative without becoming tendentious, and lucid, closely reasoned arguments are a model of the very best that the English-language CCP apologist blogosphere can bring us. Although not everyone’s posts can quite meet this high standard, based on past experience, I think we can expect a lot more of the same from Hidden Harmonies. I mean, it’s practically Fool’s Mountain 2.0, except without Steve throwing a wet blanket on everything.

  24. December 22nd, 2010 at 23:00 | #24

    @nic, #17

    It doesn’t really matter if the Chinese bend backwards.

    At the moment, even those who are interested in a ‘neutral’, ‘factual’ information often have difficulty to gather some basic information.

    The problem we continue to see is the bias and outright lies in the Western media about China.

    As the other comment says, learn some Chinese. Even the Western journalists in China are often only capable of enough Chinese to order food at restaurants. There is a severe lack of will to want to know the ‘neutral’ and “factual’ information.

  25. December 22nd, 2010 at 23:20 | #25

    @Otto Kerner

    Same to you. All those of your arguments born out of hypocrisy or through some twisted sense of the world are going to be challenged here. It’s all open for everyone to see.

  26. Rhan
    December 23rd, 2010 at 00:04 | #26

    yinyang, I seldom agree with Josef, Otto or go furthest, SKC, but I still think we need ‘dissent’ voice to make the blog more interesting and balance. Just my opinion.

  27. December 23rd, 2010 at 00:43 | #27


    You are absolutely right in the need for ‘dissent’ here, but we also have limited time so will tend to want to engage in discussions we find meaningful. Certainly this is a subjective matter.

    The strength of this blog will be based on how rational and reasonable the Chinese perspectives are presented; not based on how much we cater to certain politics.

    Whatever the point of view, we try our best to keep the discussions open.

  28. Naqshbandiyya
    November 11th, 2011 at 08:47 | #28

    @Otto Kerner
    Communist Party rule in China is an immensely good thing for “dissidents”, because only with a CCP monopoly on power can you adopt this childish dualism between caricatures of Communist policy and the most extreme dissident ideas.

    What happens if and when China accomodates a multiparty system, and the loudest anti-CCP voices now realize that the vast majority of Chinese don’t agree with their agenda? White-worshipping racists like Liu Xiaobo and cult apologists like Gao Zhisheng surely know that they would be marginalized in a democratic Chinese society. The Dalai Lama knows that it is much harder to convince 1 billion enfranchised Chinese that their country should be partitioned and ethnically cleansed than to convince the same of the two-dozen men and women who run the Communist Party politburo.

    Who, then, are the real CCP apologists? The writers of this blog, who have repeatedly signalled their disagreement with CCP censorship and other policies that run contrary to the interests of the Chinese nation? Or the professional China-bashing extremists whose conceit of representing ordinary people they can only maintain with continued CCP rule?

  29. November 11th, 2011 at 10:44 | #29

    @Rhan #26


    Many have told me after reading my posts the comments of this blog is much more interesting than the posts!!! 😉

    And they are probably right!

  30. raventhorn
    November 13th, 2011 at 11:53 | #30

    We absolutely have “dissent” on this forum.

    Just some of “dissent” is getting quite boring with the usual Western media techniques. Nothing but regurgitating the same old stories and then get hissy-fits when no one bites.

    I mean seriously, stupid is repeatedly trying the same things over and over again and expecting different results.

    I would be at least engaged in discussions if there are some new theories.

  31. melektaus
    November 13th, 2011 at 13:36 | #31

    I’m suspicious of dissent for dissent’s sake. Dissent should always be reasoned dissent. Reasoned dissent is good because it keeps everyone on their toes and forces people to question their own beliefs and values. It strengths dialogue but irrational BSing for the sake of trolling often causes harm to fruitful dialogue. The hard part sometimes is distinguishing the two as there are borderline cases.

  32. Charles Liu
    May 25th, 2012 at 15:01 | #32

    The Boxun link in the blogpost has moved:


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