The Nobel committee has awarded its high-profile Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo, who advocates for a non-violent and gradual change in the Chinese government. Imprisoned since last year for subversion, this is the first time that the Nobel committee has awarded the Peace Prize to someone who is incarcerated at the time of their recognition.
It is not, however, the first time that a recipient of the Peace Prize hasn’t been able to pick up the prize in person. Several high-profile dissidents have been honored by the Nobel committee before, including pacifist Carl von Ossietzky of Germany in 1935, and Andrei Sakharov of the then-U.S.S.R. in 1975, and because of restrictions (or threats) by their governments were unable to claim their prizes in person. Yahoo News and others have reported that Liu Xiabo’s wife, Liu Xia, hopes to be allowed to travel to Oslo and accept the prize in her husband’s stead.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the Chinese government’s restrictions, that they have responded furiously to the Nobel committee’s decision to honor Liu. USA Today reports that the Chinese media almost immediately blacked out the news and government officials blocked it from the Internet as well. Liu Xia was prohibited by Chinese police from talking to the media, and could only share her reaction via brief texts and phone calls. The government has also said that the Nobel committee’s decision to honor a dissident could have a negative effect on its relationship with Norway as a whole.
The rest of the world seems not to view Liu Xiabo’s award as an issue. USA Today pointed out that though the Chinese government had made threats when they first learned of his nomination earlier, the committee ignored them. This indicates that it was a pretty comfortable choice for the Nobel committee to make. He is a renowned figure, having been a part of the infamous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the student-led gathering against the Chinese government that became a massacre.
He left his post in the U.S. at Columbia University to aid the students in organizing a peaceful pro-democracy rally. After the Chinese government became violent, he is one of those widely believed to have kept the number of deaths lower than it would have been otherwise by urging the students to keep their reactions to the government assault non-violent, according to the Pen American Center’s bio of him.
He was arrested in June of last year for co-authoring a declaration for political reform called Charter 08. Charter 08, according to the Pen Center, is a call for the end of one-party rule in China and greater human rights, as well as other sweeping political reforms. He had previously been detained in 2008 after the Chinese government learned of Charter 08, but was released while they gathered evidence until last June, when he was arrested and charged with subversion. He has been in jail since late last year, and only recently moved to a facility where his wife could visit him.
It remains to be seen what, if any, fallout the Nobel Committee’s decision brings for Chinese-Norwegian relations. The rest of the world, however, seems poised to applaud the efforts of Liu Xiabo to bring a peaceful resolution to China’s internal conflicts.
USAToday.com, “Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo wins Nobel Peace Prize.”
PEN.org, “China: Liu Xiabo.”
Karl Ritter and Scott McDonald, “Chinese dissident Liu wins Peace Prize.” YahooNews.com