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The Nobel Prize and the CCP’s Ignoble Response

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.

23 Comments on The Nobel Prize and the CCP’s Ignoble Response

  1. Great job, Jeremiah.

    “…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.”

    Absolutely. I also see its import in a wider context: that of freedom of expression beyond Chinese shores. Recent years have demonstrated all too clearly Beijing’s willingness to use its considerable leverage to silence dissenting voices in every corner of the planet. That alarming strategy was seen again this past week with their petty threats against Norway.

    They failed.

    And every nation should resolve to make sure the CCP continue to fail in their crass attempts to thwart free expression and freedom of information (let alone locking people up for making sense). The long term consequences of capitulating to such threats from Beijing are unthinkable. Norway showed us the way, and presented the Chinese people with a deserved honour in the process.

  2. I don’t think they’ll reduce the guy’s prison rations. But the fact that you even considered it as a possibility gives credence to those “straw man” arguments.

    “Are we sure this won’t make things worse?” Those two writers aren’t sure. Are you?

  3. Liu was once asked about how China should progress: “(It would take) 300 years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would take 300 years of colonialism for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough.”

    Imperialism/colonialism was a Holocaust for the Chinese people. Liu is a traitor. Pure and simple. He would sell out his own country to the West. His sentence was lenient.

    Note that in Europe, those who deny the Holocaust, or praise the Holocaust, would also be sentenced to jail. In fact right now there are dozens of academics languishing in jail, simply for questioning the official Holocaust account.

    So are you saying Europeans can jail those who offend their own historical sensitivities, but the Chinese cannot?

  4. “What Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize does do is expose as hollow a false premise relating to China’s government: that of gradual evolution.”

    And that is the sadness that comes when you read the governments response. Petty smoke that addresses little. People ask what I think about political change here now and again and I (maybe naively, I like to think, hopefully) hear myself say, “well, it would be chaos if the government let go of the reigns, I just hope and expect that small changes are continuously being made on the inside for the betterment of the lives of the people.”

    And then I read about Liu Xiaobo this morning and realise I am almost certainly wrong.

  5. anonymous (berlinerin) // October 9, 2010 at 6:07 pm //

    A much better piece than the ‘this is going to be bad for democracy in China’ shill-pieces in the big papers, but ruined somewhat by some unfortunate metaphors in 2nd and 3rd to last paragraphs.

    You might like to pause to think how these cause a particular male voice in your writing and presuppose your audience is similarly male. Which is to say, don’t drag down a very important event by writing like an aging hipster sexist.

  6. This prize was as misguided as the one last year for Obama. Or for Gore or Carter.

    Alfred Nobel’s will laid out the qualifications for a peace prize: “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

    Liu Xiaobo has done nothing to merit this honor. This is a hollow prize for hollow men with no accomplishments to their name. Time to retire this award.

  7. Tom,

    I think it’s certainly something to consider, but my problem with those articles was that they were focusing too much on ‘how this will change things right now’ which I think is only a small part of this. Anybody who thinks that this Nobel is going to change anything (for the positive) is being naive, but sure…like most people I caught my breath yesterday when I heard that Liu Xia had disappeared for a few hours (she resurfaced). Bill Cosby once said, never say ‘things couldn’t get worse’ because before you know it…worse.

  8. Wayne,

    First of all, I disagree with any sentence based purely on speech. But to compare Liu Xiaobo to a Holocaust denier or a Nazi…well, you’ve just blown up your own argument.

    I’m guessing that comment is now worth only 0.40 RMB.

  9. Berlinerin,

    Yeah…mea culpa, but it’s the way I blog. I (generally) eschew such metaphors when preparing something for an academic journal or teaching class.

  10. Xiang,

    Well, according to that passage neither Martin Luther King, Jr. shouldn’t have been awarded the Nobel, not saying that Liu Xiaobo is equivalent to King (we’ll let history decide) but I can’t imagine any thinking person who would argue today against King’s being awarded the prize even though he might not fit the narrow definition your handlers provided for you.

    For that matter, plenty in the US in 1964 would have, like Wayne, branded King a ‘traitor’ and insinuated that he was the puppet of outside forces…

  11. x@y

    I think there are continuous small changes in the government to improve the conditions for rule of law and expression in China. Despite what the moonbat brigade (see above) believes, it’s not an either/or proposition…you can have reform without chaos…but my point was that so long as the CCP makes holding onto power their top priority, such reform efforts will always be hamstrung and, ultimately, limited whatever the needs of the people might be.

  12. One quick reminder on comments. I usually post comments once a day. If you’ve already said your peace, let others have a turn. I think it’s great to get feedback and dissenting views, but this isn’t really a space for excessive back-and-forth because I don’t have time to play referee.

    Also, if your comment doesn’t show up…don’t take it personally. I generally post the ones I think carry the discussion forward the best or that express a point of view which differs from the article. Repetitious or banal comments will likely be thrown into the bilge.

  13. Viva Hu Jiantao. He has shown us the true color of China, and what kind of superpower will be. By threatening the Norwegians, he had personally awarded the prize to Liu. And by complaining to the Norwegian ambassador, he had given the world a new meaning of “peace”. Great work.

  14. Mmm tomorrow I am back from Japan… should I say “congratulations” to the guys in the passport control? I just want to be polite!

  15. John Herodotus // October 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm //

    It is an interesting comparison between the late Qing Dynasty and the current regime, but I have often felt that the Party before 1979 was comparable to the Qing Dynasty while the post-’79 regime has resembled the Nationalist government, with the June 4 movement being a kind of May 4.

    In any case, I think what we are experiencing now is the brief and awkward flirtation with Western liberalization as a kind of interregnum that will eventually give way to a new ideological movement.

    Moreover, I think that the apparent success and prosperity of a number of regimes and ideological systems, including the American one, has been propped up by a credit/debt bubble stretching back to the 1980s. When there is so much liquidity and low inflation, everybody can have their cake and eat it, too. But, that gig is up. Pseudo-communists in China and pseudo-capitalists in America will have to go back to the drawing board.

  16. @Jeremiah – Excellent article. I couldn’t agree more that this award has exposed the virtual non-existence of the “behind the scenes” “incremental” approach that so many commenters have convinced themselves is taking place.

    Just like most people who have worked any time in China, I have met members of the new generation of foreign-educated CCP members who are supposedly going to bring about China’s transformation. My impression is that anyone who genuinely believes that their assent to power (which has already taken place in large part) will mark any change in the CCP’s policy of preventing the formation of any locus of political power beyond its control is grossly deceiving themselves. Yes, this is the generation which was (partly) educated abroad – but they were born and raised for leadership in China. They have prepared themselves through hours of meetings and meaningless speeches on such edifying subjects as the necessity of implementing the Three Represents in hospital care, and the importance of studying Lei Feng, for a place in Mainland China’s totalitarian framework.

    Change in China will never come from within such a system, in which everyone remains convinced that reform is necessary – but only after they and their friends have had their go at the helm of China’s dictatorship. Only change from the outside, most likely brought on by a crisis, will deliver such change. It would be wrong, however, to wish for such a crisis, since the results would be unpredictable, and, as we saw in ’89, it is unlikely that the CCP would relinquish power without bloodshed.

  17. “The CCP today is in a far stronger position than the Manchus of old.”

    This is only true if you compare CCP today with the 19th century Manchu. The 16,17 century Manchu was way more stronger than CCP today. It produced 50% of the world GDP, and expanded Chinese huge amount of Chinese territory. CCP today does not produce any where new 30% of world GDP, and territory has actually contracted since 1949 – mostly given to Russia.

  18. John,

    It’s an interesting notion and one I explore in my 20th Century China Class. Good article on the topic is Merle Goldman, “Restarting Chinese History.”

  19. Bill,

    I think it was pretty clear that in the post I was referring to the last decade(s) of the Qing.

  20. ad “Norwegian salmon … I’m doing seafood buffet at noon”
    and what about order something made in Slovakia? (maybe any luxury German-branded car?)
    because Liu was nominated (also) thanks to 51 signs of Slovak parliament members (50 of them in that time in opposition), together with other Slovak (and Czech) signers

  21. J, love the piece. However, I would say that for all the bashing China is taking in the Western press, the praise from Asian powers closely aligned with D.C., specifically Japan, South Korea, and Australia, is deafening. This proves that although China’s soft power is no where near America, and won’t be for the foreseeable future, China’s hard power has certainly come to pasture.

    This silence is reminiscent of the neutered response by most Muslim nations last July (with the exception of Turkey). As much as it pains me to say this, China’s done a remarkable job trumpeting its non-intereference policy. I would say at this point, this “battle” is a diplomatic wash for China.

  22. Lawrence in Hong Kong // October 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm //

    Indeed, this is a problem of China’s own making, and the hysterical reaction would be risible if I were not living on the PRC doorstep. I sincerely hope, in my heart of hearts, that those in line for power are prepared for the sort of reform the country needs, but the evidence for the sitting clique so far is underwhelming.

    We constantly hear Chinese leaders preaching ‘harmony’ and ‘stability’. Yet there seems to be little understanding of the cause and effect of disharmony in society that simply growing the economy by a nominal 8% per annum will not solve. It is ironic that Chinese leaders most fear social instability, for it is universally accepted that corruption is the greatest political issue in China, and often the underlying cause of social stability. Party officials are so implicated in corruption up and down the country that any civil movement against graft or other abuses of power necessarily shakes the Party. It creates a vicious circle which reinforces the CCP Central Committee’s own paranoia. That someone could be locked away to rot for eleven years for making such bland and ultimately universally reasonable demands as Charter 08 is a sign that they do not recognise that time to hand over power gracefully will come at any time soon.

    Whilst I agree with those who say there are others more deserving of this Nobel Prize, the award is a potent symbol and catalyst for the change that must surely come – although it may take another twenty years. There is still time while Taiwan is not wearing nationalist blinkers and while Hong Kong is still free, but the screws here are tightening here too. This award has created an icon for Chinese democracy, if not a martyr, and is the reason why China is so angry. I hope history will repeat itself, and Liu will one day become president of China.

    However, my prediction is that China will go for the expedient solution in the first instance: Liu and his wife will be released in time to collect the prize; then they be told their passports have been cancelled before he boards the flight home; Liu’s weight will gradually dwindle. Perceiving that they have neutralised the internal threat, the CCP will happily carry on as if their grip on power has been given an indefinite extension.

  23. The Chinese government is oversensitive to the newly awarded Noble prize to LIU XB and to the related report and discussion. That shows the government lacks self-esteem in such aspect. If permitting the public participating in the debate of this event, I am sure many people will think the Noble Peace Prize is just a tool manipulated by the western countries. The evidence is that the peace prize has once been awarded to a monk unwelcomed by the Chinese.

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