The Dragon Spits Fire – Again: Imprisoned Liu Xiaobo”s Nobel Peace Prize Angers the Chinese

Posted on October 10, 2010 in YKA Editorials

By Pradyut Hande:

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award that was bestowed on the imprisoned Chinese dissident — human rights activist Liu Xiaobo has garnered mixed responses from myriad quarters the world over. While many hailed the controversial choice for this year’s award, the most notable opposition (read condemnation) has expectedly come from the Chinese government itself. The award has palpably ignited the proverbial powder keg that has left Chinese officials fuming with rage; given the fact that the independent Norwegian Nobel Committee (responsible for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize) chose to turn a deaf ear in the face of continual warnings (read threats) issued by the Chinese government “requesting” them to refrain from recognizing the unstinting efforts of Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese government’s openly bellicose stance is another indicator of the prevalent “ideology disconnect” that often mires the Middle Kingdom’s relations with its global allies.

Coming back to Liu Xiaobo: The 54-year-old has been a leading human rights/political activist, university professor and author whose unflinching pacifist approach in his earnest attempt to usher in “peaceful, gradual political change” instead of engaging in direct confrontation with the oppressive Chinese government has won him many an admirer in the international community. However, he remains an obscure marginalized peripheral figure in his own country given the fact that the Chinese Community Party has clamped down on his “inflammatory” ideas and often imprisoned him to ensure that he remains out of public consciousness.

Xiaobo initially sprang to public prominence during the macabre Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. He was duly arrested and imprisoned for two years in view of his role in the protests. Xiaobo then subsequently taught as a professor at the Beijing Normal University but alas! He wasn’t one to be cowed by the ruthlessly suppressive Chinese government and continued to propagate his “radical” ideas, much to the chagrin of the watchdog authorities. In a move that didn’t raise too many eyebrows, Xiaobo was banned from teaching anywhere in China.

In 1996, the already much-ostracized “political change proponent” incurred the wrath of the powers that be when he spoke out against China’s single-party political system. However, this time Xiaobo was dispatched to a “re-education through labor camp” for a duration of three years. Since his release, his resolve appeared to have increased manifold as he embarked on an “ideological crusade” against the prevalent Chinese systems and practices. His criticism regarding China’s attitude towards the entire Tibet crisis further propelled him into global prominence.

However, matters took a turn for the worse when he aided the framing of the contentious Charter 08 manifesto that broadly calls for political change in China. Amongst other things, the manifesto calls for a new Chinese constitution; an independent, accountable judiciary body; freedom of expression and enhanced civil rights. The Charter was backed by over 300 activists, academicians, artists, lawyers and miscellaneous professionals. Unfortunately, the manifesto turned out to be the final nail in Liu Xiaobo’s “coffin”. The authorities moved with alacrity and arrested him in a late-night raid, two days before the publication of the controversial manifesto. He was given a one-day trial (a matter of formality) in December last year and handed an 11 year sentence for “inciting state subversion”.

Xiaobo’s persistent efforts were bound to gain the global community’s attention and his bagging the Nobel Peace Prize came as a timely “recognition of the growing international consensus for improving human rights practices and culture around the world”. However, there is a gross contradiction in the opinions of the Chinese government and the Norwegian Nobel Committee (and the international think-tank at large) and the Chinese authorities.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu vehemently declared, “Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who violated Chinese law. It is a complete violation of principles of the prize and aninsult to the Peace Prize itself for the Nobel Committee to award the prize to such a person”. The decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee this year does restore a semblance of parity and credibility associated with the Peace Prize after they bestowed the honor on US President Barack Obama last year — a development that left many more than flummoxed. However, by throwing caution to the wind this year and awarding Xiaobo, a noted dissident, bilateral ties between China and Norway are liable to take a significant beating. The entire episode and the consequent “domestic furor” merely underscores the fact that despite its rapid socio-economic ascendancy on the global arena and purported changes in its political system, China remains a relatively “closed” state that staunchly believes and espouses its Communist ideals. The omnipresent roots of civil suppression and security related paranoia prevail. Undoubted is the widely acknowledged fact that the state-controlled Communist government has succeeded in ushering an era of protracted robust socio-economic progression, but its often belligerent rhetoric with regards to sensitive international issues that require the exercise of a certain measure of tact and diplomacy — has often rubbed its allies the wrong way.

One thing is for certain though – despite the widespread international calls to release the presently incarcerated Liu Xiaobo, China is unlikely to bow to global pressure. Xiaobo will remain a prisoner; imprisoned by a dispassionate and rigid government hell bent on drowning out the voices of Xiaobo’s ilk. I would urge you to voice yourself in the comments section below, or tweet us at @YouthKiAwaaz or drop us an email at

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and a business student with wide ranging interests and strives to address myriad issues of national and global consequence.

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