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Editor note: This article is originally written by Leung Mantao, a cultural critic based in Hong Kong, in Chinese. It is a response toward the Chinese state media' propaganda campaign against the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a political dissident who is still in the Chinese prison.
What they said is right, the Nobel Peace Prize is really no big deal! Why letting a bunch of Nordic Europeans to decide who the world’s academic heroes are? Or who makes the greatest contributions to peace? This doesn’t really make a lot of sense! They are right, any award has in itself some sorts of bias. That is why Jean-Pail Sartre refused to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964. His reason was, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an western institution, even if the prize itself does not mean to be one." (Sartre also declared reluctance to accept the "Lenin Prize"). Therefore, I do not wish to argue here whether Mr. Liu Xiaobo deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, or what is the meaning of him taking or not taking the award. I do not even concern whether the decision to award him is in the end a “blasphemy” called by the spokesman for China's foreign ministry.
As a matter of fact, if I live in the mainland, I am afraid I simply don’t have the right to debate, or show interest in the matter because I may as well don’t know who Mr. Liu is, or what he has said and done. I am just wondering out of curiosity, if Mr. Liu really is a spokesman of the "Western anti-China forces" as they say, why are the people not allowed the right to take a look at his argument? Perhaps people would agree more with the “blasphemy” rhetoric after all. If Mr. Liu is a criminal who has violated the Chinese law, why can’t they publish the evidence of his crime so that his evil deeds would be unveiled to the public? If Mr. Liu is really guilty, why then his prosecution was so mysteriously processed and was banned from the public’s eyes?
They often use ‘hidden agenda’ to portray others’ ‘sinister motive’. Though, I always believe that they are the one who prefer using ‘hidden agenda’ most. Is it not? They dared not to announce the news following Liu’s award. Even ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ was too sensitive a word that it was banned in the country. They put Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia under house arrest and set roadblock nearby under the name of construction when reporters tried to get contact with her. The funniest thing is when a reporter asked about the subject at a press conference, the spokesman said he did not aware of all the above. Well, you tell me, who actually got ‘hidden’ secrets?
And sometimes, they pass words to people they don’t like through a third party. They say, “If you do not behave, I can make you lose everything.” Listening to this kind of commanding language, I don’t feel a single sense of fright, rather, it is as if a kind of sadness has passed through me. This is my country, the 2nd largest world economy and a rising strong sovereign. It has organized the Olympic Games and the World Expo, trying best to show the world of its openness towards internationality in many respects. Yet, why do they choose to threaten those who possess a divergent political view from them? Why do they have to put someone’s life and livelihood in threat? Why don’t they debate with him openly or argue with him in private? Why can’t they discuss ideas in the light, but instead using secretive and inappropriate ways to silent people (they dare not to state their will openly, even it is just to tell someone to obey)?
I noticed that there are some conservative criticisms towards Liu Xiaobo, claiming him as traitor working for the ‘Western anti-China forces’. I also noticed that some ‘forward-thinking’ academics are making use of trendy academic theories and theorists in the field (such as Alain Badiou) to mock Mr. Liu and ‘that old cliché of democracy’ behind the ‘Western forces’. But all that doesn’t bother me at all because they can create a topic for discussion. What I do care is a simpler and fundamental problem i.e. Can we discuss all the related issues in the light? Indeed, comparing to the institution which imprisoned him, Mr. Liu at least is an honorable man. All his words openly go to the public, and he is honest to his thought (even if those ideas may cause trouble to his personal wellbeing). You can’t blame Mr. Liu if you have never seen or heard of his words or writings because the power that accused him of having ‘hidden agenda’ is actually responsible for turning all his words into hidden secrets.
Mr. Liu is not a saint. After the June Forth incident, he wrote a ‘Letter of repentance’ in prison which he did not really have to write, he was even suspected of whitewashing when deceived to say something for the authorities on television. Yet, Mr. Liu does always possess a heart of repentance. His deep remorse and regret are never in disguise, always truthful and pressing hard on himself. Every time when he thinks of his comrades who were sacrificed, he buries himself in sadness. We should know everyone makes mistakes, the difficulty lies in how you put your feeling afterwards. After years in agony, when you read Mr. Liu’s recent articles, hardly can you recognize he was once that young person full of spirit who had fight so boldly on his horse and with a sword. When I read his convincing confession written in jail, ‘I have no enemies’, I was wondering if the strong sense of tolerance and compassion shown in his writing indeed the outcome of a tempest too long and harsh.
“I have no enemies, and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I’m unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities.” Liu’s statement reminds me of Aung San Suu Kyi, she not only showed her smile and blessed the military and the police who put her under surveillance, but also asked supporters to respect those hostile soldiers. I also think of Nelson Mandela, he encountered an extremely ferocious commander when he was imprisoned on Robben Island. That commander gently showed some good will before leaving for another position, waking Mandela to realize that, “These people are not without humanity, and their non-human nature is actually being imposed. They behave like animals because they will be rewarded with that behavior, and that inhuman behavior can actually help them get promoted. On that day he realized that Badenhorst (name of the commander) was not the fiery and temperamental person he appeared to be, but actually a better person.” Although I do not wish to talk about the Nobel Peace Prize here, so far, I can see there is a consistency in the judging standard among the Peace Prize Committee members.
Only through acknowledging the fragility and limitations of human beings that we could develop a willingness to pardon others, and to see goodness in the most despicable. Therefore, even on the eve of his eleven years of imprisonment, Liu Xiaobo had noted the ‘progress in surveillance’ while behind bars. He noted that, “Beikan (the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Detention Center) has now much better hardware (facilities) and software (management) than it did when I was there (former Beikan, in Banbuqiao) more than ten years ago." Surrounded by hostility, Liu Xiaobo still found goodness in Officer Liu who was in charge of his cell. He noted, “People feel warm by his respect and care for the detainees, reflected in the management of every detail, and permeating his every word and deed. Getting to know the sincere, honest, responsible, good-hearted Officer Liu really was a piece of good luck for me in Beikan.” To put the above in simple words, Mr. Liu has never mixed up the components of the institution with the institution itself.
Mandela had once attracted much criticism because of his moderate stance, his comrades think treating the enemies kindheartedly is a demonstration of weakness, cowardice, and appeasement. Some more radical critics even accused his manner of being an act to yearn for power and benefits. Similarly, Liu Xiaobo’s attitude of moderation and tolerance has become a crime to some people. Some disagree with his idea of gradual reform, they even interpret his confession into a compromise, a surrender and a flatter. They say, “He has ignored the fact and openly praised the CPC which has long been trampling on human rights. His contradictory rhetoric to defense himself but at the same time eluting the CCP evil deeds has set a terrible example for confusing the right and the wrong, which badly misleads and influences the democratic movement in China.” For these people, the Chinese government is a stubborn force of evil, not likely to change gradually or to regenerate towards the good. Therefore, they will fight against it until it breaks down. They do not agree with the ideas of the ‘Cooperative group’ (including Mr. Liu). The discrepancy between the ‘Cooperation Group’ and the ‘Resistance group’ not only lies on their differences in opinions and strategies, they are actually representing two very different moral alternatives.
I think I am familiar with the above point of view. Though, I once naively thought, if a person decided to be put behind bars while he was actually given a chance to be deported, then his act would probably be an ultimate proof of self-clarification in the face of conscience and moral suspicion. But still, perhaps I have underestimated the persistency and completeness of that point of view discussed in the previous paragraph. To be put behind bars is not enough, it still cannot let us see a man's ‘true colors’ because perhaps ‘putting behind bars’ is just ‘one move within the great chess game’. The aim of that act is to nurture a prestigious Chinese oppositional leader for future use. That can be used to promote a pseudo-democratic reform which benefits the Communist Party, while Liu himself will certainly gain some good out of his imprisonment. And he has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with international reputation. Perhaps he will even get to a higher level in this ‘abstrusely mighty chess game’ and become the ‘president’ of this country! That point of view to the farthest point will even speculate Liu becoming ‘president’, and that he will appoint his confidants to be ‘commanders of national security to destroy the long been marginalized revolutionaries who are against Liu, and to reconcile with the oppositional Communist Party.’ All these of course must be, without a doubt, the result of the Communist Party’s painstaking plan!
In addition, I have seen criticism against Liu’s ‘vicious attack’ remarks on human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng. How could he possibly ‘viciously attack’ the highly respected Mr. Gao? I was curious, so I slightly researched into the origin and found out that the most reliable basis for the criticism may be due to Liu’s ‘mild and humane’ treatment in prison. The logical foundation of that criticism is this: “Under the same totalitarian state, the same era, and the same judicial system, the Chinese human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng and other prisoners of conscience were imposed by the police with terrible tortures such as genital shock. Therefore, Mr. Liu should know very well the ulterior motive of the CCP when they brutally tortured Mr. Gao Zhisheng and other prisoners of conscience, while he himself was given special privileged treatment. Yet, he still spoke of how the Chinese government has shown ‘recognition of universal human rights standards’ in his ‘I have no enemies: my final statement’ which is totally untrue.” In other words, the argument of the above criticism goes this way: Mr. Liu has shown no concern to people like Mr. Gao, he just happened to talk about his personal experience. Therefore, he is a liar. As this point of view evolves, the ‘lie’ will transform into an attack and a denial towards Mr. Gao.
Here, we may recall the conservative pro-government remarks. According to those remarks, the Norwegian Peace Prize Committee consisting of a total of five former members of the Congress can never be fundamentally independent. It must have entrenched with some "Western anti-China forces" behind. Giving the Prize to Liu Xiaobo at this time could not be possibly a coincidence. That must have to do with the disputes on RMB exchange rate, the purpose is to combat the developing China. Awarding Mr. Liu is no coincidence, it is because he has long been a key player in this Western attempt to change China - the great chess game.
Have you noticed the similarities between the above point of view and the one from the ‘resistance group’ mentioned earlier on? There are always too many ‘maybe’ or ‘likely’ when they establish their rationales. And that all these ‘maybe’ and ‘likely’ certainly need more facts and arguments to make them established. Why is it the five members of Nobel Peace Prize Committee has become tool of the "Western anti-China forces"? This needs explanation. Why Liu’s imprisonment has to be portrayed as collaboration with the authority? It also requires evidence. However, these two sets of seemingly different thoughts are in fact following similar origin. They both avoid areas that needed to be explaining most. If you think they are conveying the fact, then it is better to say that they are making self-satisfaction with their inference so as to create an enemy figure. Under this dichotomize point of view, the world has become a sphere with conspiracy. Human beings are a kind of suspicious animals. All their ‘maybe’ and ‘likely’ are pointing to one end. This way of thinking seems very complicated but in fact very simple. It is to put all diverse and comprehensive traces into one interpretation to create a picture of imagination that caters the presume argument.
Last week I met a student from the mainland at a university in Hong Kong. He said that Liu’s award has aroused some controversy among the students. Many thought that it was the Western world’s ‘Ulterior motives’ in action, intended to fight against the image of the Chinese government. He would like to hear my views. So I told him, “I do not care and have no way to know of any ‘intention’ and motivation behind, but the effect on this award is indeed a challenge to China's image.” The student replied as if he did not understand what I had just said, “Oh, so you agree that it is deliberately an act of the West.” He did not seem to catch me, so I had to seriously reiterate it again, “Please note that I am only talking about the actual result, rather than the intention or the motivation. It is because we do not have enough materials to analyse the intension issue, and we do not have evidence to associate the Nobel Peace Prize committee with the so-called ‘West’.” In the end, I still was not sure if that student really got what I mean.
The shackles of the prison and prison-like condition not only discipline our body, they will also change the way we perceive the world. An authoritarian government not only has limited the rights of the people, it will also create a kind of constricted soul among them. Authoritarian power is already terrible enough in itself, but it is more heartbreaking to see people who oppose it have become much alike with what they oppose to, sharing a common language and way of thinking, despite that the people who resist are actually worth respecting in person.
Living under the state’s long-term monitoring with hostile and suspicious eyes all around, courage is not the most precious thing Mr. Liu Xiaobo has got, rather, it is his clear insight into the impact of such a situation considered more valuable. He does not allow himself to fall into a blind dichotomy of ‘either enemies or friends’. It’s nothing better than to put it in his own words, “For hatred is corrosive of a person’s wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation's spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and block a nation’s progress to freedom and democracy. I hope therefore to be able to transcend my personal vicissitudes in understanding the development of the state and changes in society, to counter the hostility of the regime with the best of intentions, and defuse hate with love.”
I may not know too well of the significance of Mr. Liu’s award, nor do I want to discuss the value of it. Yet, from all the information that we can get and share, I can tell that Mr. Liu is an ordinary person, compassionate, peaceful and a person who walks in the light. The Nobel Peace Prize can neither make him shine brighter, nor make him lose his brightness, this man's very existence is more important than any medals.
This work is licensed under a Attribution Non-commercial Creative Commons license