The CCP wants a Nobel. Not one they have to share with France. Not one where they have to explain why Chinese scientists are doing their best and most innovative work in other countries. And certainly nothing that may elevate the status of a certain Tibetan monk. They want one to cuddle. One to hold. One to make all their very own.
But for the CCP, having the first home turf Chinese Nobel be awarded to Charter 08 writer and activist Liu Xiaobo must feel a bit like losing your virginity and waking up the next morning with a scorching case of herpes.
I don’t think anybody seriously expects Liu’s Nobel to change anything for the better. At least in the short term. The small cottage industry in essays published this morning along the lines of “Are we sure this won’t make things worse?” are putting forward a straw man argument.
Change, when it comes to China, will not be sparked by the Nobel committee or Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International. Nor will it be due to the heroic (or Quixotic, depending on your perspective) activism of Liu Xiaobo and his associates. It will only come when grievances and demands breach the walls of class interest and regional difference to create the kinds of linkages seen in 1919 or 1949 or 1989.
What Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize does do is expose as hollow a false premise relating to China’s government: that of gradual evolution.
Is the human rights situation better now than 35 years ago? Of course. Better than 10 years ago? Maybe. But the gradual easing of some of the most onerous and barbaric practices of ‘social stability’ can obscure the simple fact that the CCP fundamentally does not believe in sharing power whether with the people or another party. At the root of every decision made by the Party, the first order of business (their Prime Directive, for you closet Trekkies) is “How will this affect our hold on power?”
Fix the environment? Address endemic corruption? Answer calls by farmers for justice in land disputes with developers and local officials? These are all important government priorities…so long as the solutions do not weaken one iota the Party’s grip on the government and country.
We’ve seen this before. In the waning decades of the Qing Empire, the Manchu court under Empress Dowager Cixi and an increasingly conservative inner circle of Manchu notables faced a number of devastating internal problems as well as the constant threats of rapacious and violent imperialist powers. Those officials — or writers — who sought change, who proposed the kind of systemic and institutional reforms needed to stem the tide of decline, found their voices lost in the cacophony of an insecure and frightened court who saw such systemic changes to be the vanguard of Manchu irrelevance.
The CCP today is in a far stronger position than the Manchus of old. By an order of magnitude. Yet the way they look at the world as they take turns peeking out through the walls of Zhongnanhai is so very similar to Cixi and her flunkies. As a result, the CCP response last night was as predictable as it was banal: “The decision disgraced the Nobel Prize.”
And that was just last night.
This morning they are faced with people going on line and trying to find out who this Liu Xiaobo character is anyway and why the hell did he win a prize. The Foreign Ministry can call Liu Xiaobo a criminal, but they also have to answer questions about which laws were broken and why in 2010 such laws are still necessary.
The CCP can mess with Sina Weibo, black out CNN for 20 minutes at a time, and block transmission of Liu Xiaobo’s name via SMS…but the more they take such measures the more they come across as scared and petty. They can rant and rave about ‘Western imperialism’ and make veiled accusations of dastardly ‘outside forces’ (the same allegations the FBI used to make about Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lennon once upon a time) but to do so makes them seem shrill and paranoid…and sounding like a crazy ex-girlfriend on your voice mail just isn’t really the best diplomacy.
As of 8:30 this morning, the domestic media is simply repeating the official rebuke from last night and then…deafening silence. I think the idea here is “If I don’t say anything, everybody will think it was the dog who farted not me.” Always a winning PR strategy.
The fact is that the CCP doesn’t need to do this anymore. More than one commentator in the past 24 hours has referred to the debacle as a “PRC own goal.” If government hadn’t been so freaked out by Charter 08 and sentenced Liu Xiaobo to prison (on December 25, 2009 figuring that the Western world would be too deep in egg nog to care…how’s that plan working out right about now?) then the Nobel committee wouldn’t have given this guy the time of day. Not to take anything away from Liu’s obvious set of large brass ones or his and his family’s sacrifice, but this Prize is as much a testament to the CCP’s continued paranoia and basic stupidity when confronted with even the most mild of statements for systemic or institutional change as it is about any one man.
*Favorite random moment of last night: Reports on Twitter that young people were buying Norwegian salmon for dinner as a way of saying “thanks” to Norway. Hope this doesn’t lead to a petulant government ban. I’m doing seafood buffet at noon.