Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Effortost countries celebrate their Nobel Prize winners. Not the case with China, which has initiated a media and Internet blackout of the fact that Liu Xiaobo was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize last week. Meetings with Norwegian officials also were canceled, even though the government of Norway has nothing to do with the prize.
Of course, it would be hard for the Chinese to honor someone who is in prison for his “anti-government” writings. Still, the prize — the first awarded to someone in China — should prompt a review of the long-held Chinese government view that it is always right and that dissent must be squelched.
The Nobel Committee acknowledged the contradictions of China’s economic and political advancement with its maintenance of strict government control over speech and assembly.
“Over the past decades, China has achieved economic advances to which history can hardly show any equal,” the committee said in a statement announcing the award. “The country now has the world’s second largest economy; hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Scope for political participation has also broadened.”
But, it added: “China’s new status must entail increased responsibility.”
That responsibility includes easing restrictions on those who disagree with the government. People like Liu Xiaobo.
Liu is a writer and commentator who has long advocated for peaceful political change in China. His Charter 08 reiterated that the country’s constitution calls for freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association and demonstration. More than 1,000 people had signed the document on the Web before the government blocked access to it.
During pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Liu went on a hunger strike before negotiating the students’ retreat in the face of tanks and soldiers.
Liu again was arrested and detained in December and sentenced to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” His wife was allowed to visit him briefly last week after the Nobel award was announced. She since has been put under house arrest.
Liu’s bravery in the face of government crackdowns is hard for many in the West to fathom. The Nobel prize likely won’t shorten his sentence, but by emboldening others like him who will continue to advocate for a freer society, it sends an important message.