Thursday, December 09, 2010

China's Confucius prize backfires

China has attempted to downplay the Nobel Peace Prize and its award to Liu Xiaobo , by creating its own, the Confucius Peace Prize which was due to be awarded on Thursday. But the ceremony has backfired after the winner failed to turn up, and only one of the eight nominees attended. The choice of Confucius in the naming of China's peace prize has also drawn criticism. Critics have said the name to trivialises the teachings of the Chinese thinker and philosopher who emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. In this regard there are several instances where his quotes are in direct contrast to that of the current rulers of China. "A ruler should learn self-discipline, govern his subjects by his own example, and treat his subjects with love and concern" Confucius stated. In today's Times, the philosopher was quoted in connection with China's decision to announce a Confucius prize. "An oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger."*

Subversion of the state

If Confucius had lived in modern China, such comments might well have landed him in the same position as Liu Xiaobo who in his manifesto Charter 08 spoke of the "the intensification of antagonism between the government and the people".

"Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism, and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics," Liu's 3,000 word document observed.

Charter 08 was seen as a direct threat to the power of the state and Liu Xiaobo was charged under Article 105 of China's criminal law. The article reads as follows, "Whoever organizes, plots, or acts to subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system, the ringleaders or those whose crimes are grave are to be sentenced to life imprisonment, or not less than 10 years of fixed-term imprisonment."

In one respect, Liu received a light sentence under this charge, since he could have easily been handed a life sentence. His supporters and signatories, which under Chinese law would be termed "active participants" might have been handed jail sentences stretching from three to ten years. Most have only been hounded, victimised or placed under house arrest.

While Liu did call for change in China's political system, he did not call for violent revolution, and was merely engaged in making representations to the government. But the state interpreted his actions as an attempt to "subvert the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system."

China is adamant that justice was properly enforced. In a propaganda piece published on the state run news website Xinhua, China insists "Everyone knows that Liu Xiaobo ... is an imprisoned criminal and what he has done has nothing to do with peace."

"Liu has done everything he could to subvert the Chinese government" the article maintains. In addition to its defence of Liu's conviction, the article makes the accusation that the Nobel Peace Prize represents a "mission to peddle the Western political system and values to the entire world".

"The West has pursued this approach in its strategy against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War era," the article states. "In typical examples, someone from the former Soviet Union were awarded the Peace Prize. After the fall of the former Soviet Union, however, the Nobel Committee has shifted its focus onto other parts of the world, and this year it has targeted China." The article fails to mention that Andrei Sakharov was the 'someone' from the Soviet Union, nor of his work in nuclear non-proliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear technology and human rights.

The Confucius Peace Prize

In an article published in the Global Times and the Peoples' Daily, China announced the Confucius Peace Prize. The newly formed Confucius Peace Prize Committee has as its chairman one Tan Liuchang who told the Global Times Wednesday that Lien Chan (連戰), the honorary chairman of the Taiwan-based Kuomintang (KMT) had been handed the award.

"Lien contributes immensely to the development of cross- Straits relations and to world peace," Tan said. "We'll show the rest of the world how the Chinese understand peace. China itself is a symbol of peace and a force in upholding peace, especially in a world that is full of conflict."

He claimed that Lien had been contacted through non-governmental channels, and that while an award ceremony was planned for Thursday at a Beijing hotel, Tan said he could not confirm the attendance of Lien.

In fact Lien Chan was unlikely to attend according to the office of the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman. "We've never heard of such an award and of course Mr Lien has no plans to accept it," said Ting Yuan-chao (丁遠超), director and spokesman of Lien's office [Taipei Times].

The twisted irony is that while China organised the Confucius Peace Prize as an apparent snub to the Nobel Peace Prize, it did not see the attendance of the guest of honour [Time].

Instead of Lien Chan a tearful six-year-old girl accepted the prize, a trophy and a certificate. The organisers said she had been chosen to accept the award on behalf of Lien Chan, the real winner and Taiwan's former vice president, because "children symbolize peace and future." As to why Lien had not attended, the organisers said this was because of "reasons known to everyone" [CNN].

Support for Liu Xiaobo

There maybe further embarrassment for China after a number of Hong Kong pro-democracy left for Oslo on Wednesday. In a show of support for imprisoned activist and writer Liu Xiaobo, four Legislative Council members are to attend the ceremony which takes place on Friday. "We are not going to succumb to political pressure," said Albert Ho, chairman of the Democratic Party. "It's not going to work with Hong Kong."

The other Legislative Council members who will join Ho are Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Leung Kwok-hung [better known as "Long Hair"] of April Fifth Action and the League of Social Democrats, and Emily Lau, of the Democratic Party. They will be accompanied by Patrick Kar-wai Poon, vice president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, an organization dedicated to free speech. Liu Xiaobo had been president of the centre from 2003 to 2007 and currently serves as its honorary president.

"Because people from mainland China can't make it, we can be representatives of China," Poon said. An executive secretary of China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group said that their presence was particularly poignant. "There's symbolic meaning because we're coming from the Chinese territories," Poon said.

China has called for a boycott of the Nobel peace prize ceremony, something Poon calls disrespectful. "It only shows to the world how arrogant China is now and also how irrational they are for [protesting] on the international stage." [WSJ]

Past controversies

Liu Xiaobo will not be the first Nobel Laureate unable to attend the ceremony after being barred by the state. He joins a growing list of individuals who have been incarcerated by governments sensitive to criticism.

In 1935 Carl von Ossietzky was awarded the prize but remained in a Nazi prison camp. A radical German pacifist. He was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing details of Germany's alleged violation of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding an Air force, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe and training pilots in the Soviet Union. This award was extremely controversial, prompting two members of the prize committee to resign. King Haakon VII of Norway, who had been present at other award ceremonies, also stayed away from the ceremony.

Ossietzky was not the first to create controversy however. But it was nearly half a century before the Nobel Peace Prize Committee took a bold move to pick a controversial individual. That came with the award to Andrei Sakharov in 1975. He too was prevented from attending the ceremony. He was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union to collect it and instead his wife attended and read his speech at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Meanwhile the Nobel Peace Committee called him a spokesman for the conscience of mankind.

During the Cold War the Polish labour leader Lech Wałęsa was not allowed out to collect the honour, but his wife was permitted to travel to Oslo to accept it on behalf of her husband in 1983. Aung San Suu Kyi was also prevented from leaving her country to collect the prize in 1991, remaining instead under house arrest in Burma. Her son Alexander Aris gave the acceptance speech on her behalf.

China retaliates

China has continued in its vitriol aimed at those supporting the ceremony calling them "clowns". Foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said Liu's supporters were fundamentally opposed to China's development and wanted to interfere in the country's politics and legal system. "We will not be pressured by clowns," she exclaimed.

China claims more than 100 countries or organisations are refusing to attend and Jiang Yu said "This shows that the majority of international community members do not accept the Nobel Committee's wrong decision" [China Daily]. However only 19 have officially declined the invitation "for various reasons" according to the Nobel Prize Committee. As well as China, others not attending are listed as Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco [Guardian / BBC].

The ceremony takes place in Oslo, Norway on Friday. CNN has already confirmed coverage which will start at 12:00 GMT [13:00 CET]. The ceremony will not be relayed in China however. CNN and BBC World are likely to be blacked out and websites have already been blocked by authorities. The Telegraph and Guardian reported that the BBC website and that of Norway's NRK were both unavailable on Thursday [BBC].

The heavy hand of authorities that continues in China has raised questions amongst some who ask if anything has really changed since 1989 when up to 3,000 pro-democracy protesters died at the hands of the People's Liberation Army [Telegraph blog]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

* reference: Confucius (551 BC - 479 BC)
For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese people have been guided by the ideals of Confucianism. Its founder and greatest teacher was Confucius, whose humane philosophy also influenced the civilizations of all of eastern Asia, by way of many legends spread to illustrate Confucius' beliefs. According to one story, he and his disciples passed a cemetery where a woman was weeping beside a grave. "My husband's father was killed here by a tiger, and my husband also, and now my son has met the same fate. That's why I'm crying," she explained to them. When they asked her why she did not leave such an unlucky place, she answered that, in this place, there was no oppressive government. "Remember this, my children," said Confucius, oppressive government is fiercer and more feared than a tiger." In such teaching and with such wise sayings, Confucius tried to bring people to a virtuous way of life and a respect for the teachings of the wise men of older generations. He always said of himself that he was a "transmitter, not a maker". He collected and edited the poetry, the music and the historical writings of what he considered the golden age. Confucius laid no claim to being more than a man. Yet when he died, he was revered almost as a god. Temples were erected in his honour in every city of China. His grave at Kufow, in what is now Shandong Province, became a place of pilgrimage. Though Confucianism is commonly called a religion, it is rather a system of moral conduct. Confucius did not talk of God but of goodness. He did not teach about any god, saying simply, "Respect the gods, but have as little to do with them as possible." His attention was centred on making people better in their lifetime.

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