China: Rise of the Peace Prize before a Peaceful Rise of China

2010-10-14 - pat tse

(Editor note: This article is originally written in Chinese by An Tao at on October 10, 2010, commenting on the 2010 Nobel Peace Award to Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo. The writer explores the usage of the term "peace" in contemporary China and the implication and practice of Liu Xiaobo's peaceful act in such context.)

Over the years, I have been puzzled by the swift change of discourse from the “powerful rise” of China to its “peaceful rise”. Peace is neither derived from Marxist-Leninst principles, nor observed by the Chinese Communist regime as a virtue. How the slogan of “peaceful rise” can be realized remains in doubt.

The meaning of “peaceful rise” per se is confusing enough. Does it mean that a rising power is still peace-loving and unthreatening to other countries, or peace is a feasible or even necessary strategy during the rise of a nation?

It is not a problem for China to claim its contribution to world peace as a great power. In reality, 99 percent of countries in the world tend not to be provocative, regardless of their size. Therefore, a peace-loving great power is simply a title of void.

Nonetheless, if a peaceful rise implies peace as the strategy of a rising power, it becomes a farsighted yet oracular theory of “pacifism”.

China has been collecting a large variety of prominent “symbols of a great nation” with immense success. From the Olympics to the World EXPO, spaceship building to moon landing. It sufficiently displays its confidence, but those symbols are hardly relevant to peace. Yet the answer for the aforementioned problems can hopefully be found after Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize. Two Chinese people have been awarded the prize so far, and China has essentially become a “great nation of peace prizes”.

The accumulation of peace prizes in China simply illustrates the road to its peaceful rise.

Putting Dalai Lama aside for now, the contribution of China to cultivate Peace Prize winners deliberately and strategically cannot be understated. In a more indirect manner, it is no different from cultivating gold medalists in the Olympic Games.

Liu Xiaobo is no stranger to the generation who experienced the democratic movement in 1989. He determined to return to China from the United States, in order to get involved in the stagnated democratic campaign. Being put behind bars on and off after 1989, Liu persists to call for human rights and democracy, whereas his old allies abandoned their aspirations one after another, for the sake of getting rid of their “burden of identity”. The attribute which makes Liu stand out is “staying here and insisting on localized resistance”. Unfortunately, in the age of cynicism, a person who dares to be critical is destined to unceasing isolation.

Although Charter ’08 has now been known worldwide, people did not expect much from it when it was first introduced. Radicals considered it too moderate, whilst moderates despised its everlasting radicality. A year later, honestly speaking, it has little change on the post-Olympics situation in China. I was one of those online petitioners, but still feel pessimistic to the future of the campaign.

Only until the 20th anniversary of the June Fourth movement in 2009, more support to Charter ’08 from Hong Kong people could be observed. The Chinese authorities arrested Liu once again in late June, stimulating an upsurge of calling for the release of dissidents in jail, resulting in Liu winning the Nobel Peace Prize. To be fair, as a perserverent and critical person, Liu definitely deserves the prize for his effort in speaking the truth and standing against cynics. But in respect of the way things go, if the Communist Party did not send him to jail on top of his previous imprisonments, Chinese people would have had little chance of embracing the prize.

Nobel Peace Prize nowadays seems like the canonization of saints. The “great-power complex” of the Chinese is often intricately reflected as a complex to Nobel Prizes. The announcement of Nobel Prize winners becomes a moment to be looked forward to, and Chinese awardees are always celebrated. To make China entitled a great nation, glorious records of saints and their deeds are needed. Recent discourses of China’s rise are often related to Confucianism. Intellectuals from the “New Left” even juggle with concepts and terms, calling it a combination of the three traditions of the Confucian, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Then for a “rising nation” as such which manages to “unite the opposites” on top of orthodox Confucianism, why can’t it provide proofs of a confucious China in which saints come forth one after another to the international community?

The canonization of Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo exactly proves that China is a nation of saints.

Winners of the Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine demonstrate the level of technological advancement of their home countries. However, when it comes to the level of civilization and the so-called “soft-power”, we can only rely on the number of peace prize winners as a different form of canonization. With a rich and delicate culture, China has just had two peace prize winners so far, and there is plenty of room for progress. Therefore, I cannot agree more with Szeto Wah, who suggested that the Peace Prize should be awarded to Chinese citizens every year, in order to raise the “soft-power” of China. For the sake of the Peace Prize next year, we have to put our heads together for a new candidate.

Wen Jiabao must be one of the popular choices. Not only has he the look and voice of a saint, but also the frequent tendency of talking about democracy and freedom, as well as his past record of working for Zhao Ziyang. He gives good impression to media in the West, and is often called “the movie king”. It is a pity that he has been a prominent official for years, talking about great principles all the time, but still fails to provide substantial proof of improving human rights conditions and promoting democracy in China. Recently he calls for the importance of democracy, and surprisingly his claims are not much different from those listed in Charter ’08.

The teaching of Wen the powerful is not much different from Liu the powerless, which makes people sigh for the dislocation of time and space. The best strategy for China to strike for the next Peace Prize is to facilitate the transposition of Wen and Liu. By putting Wen to jail in Jinzhou prison and setting Liu free, no matter how long it lasts, the good virtues would be spread worldwide, making Confucian pacifism a new scale of human civilization. As a matter of course, it is anti-West, non-modern modernity, as well as post-post-liberalist individualism independent of the Western cultural hegemony. Such a complex can be easily explained, as long as the new left scholars who wholeheartedly consider Confucianism and socialism as national treasures take up the responsibility to do so.

In the profound Chinese civilization, Confucianism and Taoism are closely tied. That’s why Lao Tzu said, “When the Great Tao ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. Then appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy. When harmony no longer prevailed throughout the six kinships, filial sons found their manifestation; when the states and clans fell into disorder, loyal ministers appeared.” The fact that Liu Xiaobo won the prize in jail illustrates that China is more or less at the same level as South Africa and Burma, and it both gains and loses from this. But the transposition of Liu and Wen is actually a modern version of Emperor Yao passing his throne to Shun. By changing the position of Yin and Yang, he will create a great leap forward for China’s project of a “peaceful rise”.

This is what you should do to rescue a civilization.

All in all, at the great moment when Liu Xiaobo won another Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Chinese, we should aim higher and make another Chinese the next winner. Especially when Barack Obama could capture the prize last year with no track record at all, we should definitely utilize the peace prize for pushing the agenda of reform. If Barack Obama could do it, why can’t Wen Jiabao?

Yes we can!