China’s official reactions to the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo have been, it is sad to say, both predictable and shameful.
Not only did China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs take no time in denouncing the Nobel Committee’s decision to offer the award to Liu a violation of the original intent of the Peace Prize, according to the New York Times, the government has also taken extraordinary steps in keeping the news out of the country and clamping down on private celebrations.
Unfortunately, China’s reactions are not surprising. After all, at least since 1989, when he chose to return to China to take part in the student demonstrations at Tian’anmen Square in Beijing, Liu Xiaobo has been one of the most vocal and principled critics of the authoritarian and corrupt rule of the Communist Party. And even after he had been thrice imprisoned, Liu was instrumental in drafting and promoting Charter ’08, a stirring document that calls for the respect and protection of universal human values as well as the end of one-party rule in China. In short, Liu Xiaobo represents precisely the kind of intellectuals the Communist Party fears most: principled, outspoken, and--most important--courageous.
China’s reactions are shameful for many reasons. My colleague Timothy Cheek might be right in believing that “a new stage in the ongoing negotiations between China’s public intellectuals and their state” will follow as a result of Liu’s prize. My fear is that while the Communist Party might be willing to tolerate the presence of former dissidents (as was the case when one-time most-wanted Tian’anmen activist Li Lu was spotted traveling in China with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett back in September), in continuing to place the Party over the people it has neither room nor patience for the Liu Xiaobos of China.