Liu Xiaobo

Today, the news appeared that Liu Xiaobo has indeed won the 2010 Nobel Peace Price for his “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” I applaud the Nobel committee for awarding this esteemed award to a long time political prisoner and human rights advocate in China. It is remarkable as it is the first Nobel to EVER be awarded to a Chinese citizen.

These words got Li Xiaobo thrown into prison:

“After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity.”

It was interesting to me that the only mention of Li’s award on the state supported XinHua News, was a very brief article on how the prize will damage Norway/China relations. Included is this quote:

“The Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to people who contribute to national harmony, country-to-country friendship, advancing disarmament, and convening and propagandizing peace conferences”

as if to say that China should dictate who and what type of people the Norwegian Nobel committee should award it to. The statement reeks of incredible arrogance. Perhaps they learned these lessons in arrogance from the United States.

No doubt, the Chinese government will lash out diplomatically at the Nobel committee and at Norway, by arresting Norweigian citizens or restricting Chinese companies that deal with China (I am referring to the recent debacle with Japan). But, through awarding him the prize, the Nobel committee have sent a clear message to China that arising as a major player in the world economy comes with major responsibilities, not the least of which is recognition of basic freedoms and human rights. As this is the first Chinese Nobel, the Chinese will have no choice but to recognize Li Xiaobo and democratic reform movements.

It was ironic that the same day I read about Li Xiaobo’s potentially winning the prize, the New York Times also ran a lengthy article on academic dishonesty and fraud in China (in addition to others). One has to assume that the monolithic power of the Chinese government, known to foster an atmosphere of corruption, fuels this debacle. Until the Chinese government begins to recognize and encourage freedom of speech and academic expression, we can assume that there will be no other Nobel’s for China. To put this in perspective, the world’s third largest economy, Japan, has 18 Nobels.

We cannot disregard the Chinese government’s great progress in improving the lives of many, many Chinese citizens and the incredible challenges they face. However, as in the United States, the job is never done. Unfortunately, until basic and simple freedoms are provided, such as the freedom to receive and disseminate information, China will languish in a corner.

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About Peter Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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