- China - Nobel Prize
Empty chair marks Chinese laureate's absence at awards
The Nobel committee in Oslo bestowed its Peace Prize in absentia on Friday on Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for "inciting subversion". Liu's absence was marked by an empty chair during the ceremony.
Imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a ceremony in Norway that was notable for his absence. The award was accompanied by a chorus of demands by world leaders for the release of Liu, who is currently serving 11 years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power" after heading a pro-democracy campaign.
During the ceremony, the head of the Nobel committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, called for Liu’s freedom, rousing a standing ovation from the one thousand guests in Oslo's City Hall.
"If [China] proves capable of developing a social market economy with full civil rights, this will have a huge favourable impact on the world,” Jagland said. “If not, there is a danger of social and economic crises arising in the country, with negative consequences for us all."
The Nobel committee chairman placed the Peace Prize diploma and gold medal on an empty chair reserved for Liu. Liu had already dedicated the prize from his prison cell to the "lost souls" of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
It is the first Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 74 years at which the award was not directly handed over.
US President Barack Obama, last year’s Peace Prize laureate, joined the chorus of international leaders calling for the Chinese dissident’s release.
In France, Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said: "I renew France's call, on the day that the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, for the freeing of all those who around the world are deprived of liberty for having defended human rights".
‘A slap in the face’ for Chinese authorities
According to Nancy Li of the International Federation for Human Rights, who spoke to FRANCE 24 on Friday, China has been “reacting hysterically” ever since the Nobel committee announced its decision in October to bestow Liu with the Peace Prize. Earlier this week, Jiang Yu, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, ridiculed countries sending officials to the ceremony in Oslo as “clowns”.
That China disapproves of the Nobel committee’s choice is hardly surprising; Liu has long been a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities. But the country’s reaction has as much to do with anxiety about its image in the world as it does about the man being honoured.
There is a sense of international humiliation that Chinese authorities have been grappling with since the Nobel committee’s pick was announced. China sees this year’s award as
an implicit condemnation of its human rights record. “The Communist party here is extremely sensitive about any external criticism of its policies,” said Henri Morton, reporting for FRANCE 24 from China. “The awarding of this prize to Liu is a slap in the face for Chinese policy makers.”
The fact that the only Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner to get the award while still in China resides in prison has reinforced authorities’ perception that the West takes China’s modernization, and economic and educational progress for granted.
Still, not everyone in China is upset over the Nobel committee’s choice. According to Li, a more youthful, progressive segment of the Chinese population is excited about the prize and taking to the web to get the word out.
“You cannot type in Liu Xiaobo or even Nobel, but there are ways to get around it,” Li said.
Li also told FRANCE 24 that she does not think China’s hardline anti-Xiaobo stance will last. She used the example of Confucius, who was long vilified in China. A Chinese prize bearing his name is now being presented as an alternative to the Nobel – the Confucius Peace Prize.
“Perhaps 15 years from now, the government will have changed,” Li said, “and there’s going to be a Liu Xiabao Peace Prize.”