Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize, chinaSMACK Silent

Just a few quick comments because I’ve been shamelessly enjoying the National Day “golden week” and now I’m enjoying the weekend following it.

I don’t really have much to say about the recent Nobel Peace Prize winner. Other people do. I didn’t follow the selection process nor did I read up on the other 236 candidates. Therefore, I can’t make any arguments on the “did he deserve it or not over so and so” side of things, which seemed to dominate the Obama win.

The side that is dominating the discourse right now, however, are the political ramifications surrounding China (or perhaps more accurately, the Chinese government). Honestly, it is unfolding exactly as expected. The Nobel is given to someone the Chinese government doesn’t like and — indulge my generalization here — the West and Western media cheers. China expresses its displeasure in its fairly unique way and the West and Western media cheers — and jeers — louder. Life goes on. For the vast majority of people, their awareness of human rights issues in China peak and then return to some pre-existing default level as they refocus on the trials and tribulations of their own daily lives. The cycle repeats.

I don’t think this award really advances human rights in China in any substantial practical sense. I do think it is a lightning rod that carries a lot of symbolism for the politics involved, and I think it is often used as such. I also think that’s understandable and that the symbolism of support and encouragement that comes from a Nobel Peace Prize does still mean something.

The other comment I feel compelled to make should really be posted over on chinaSMACK but since I no longer comment these days and especially not there, I’ll make it here: To all of you people expecting, demanding, and even harassing Fauna over their lack of coverage on the above Nobel Peace Prize story, knock it off. How completely oblivious, insensitive, and selfish are you guys?

  1. chinaSMACK translates what is popular or trending amongst Chinese netizens on the Chinese internet1. The idea is for non-Chinese readers to see what Chinese people are talking about as opposed to what foreigners are talking about. That’s their value proposition.
  2. Despite the buzz in “the West” over the Nobel Peace Prize, there aren’t a lot of Chinese netizen posts or comments to translate. Part of it is because the Chinese government is actively censoring media coverage and internet discussion about it and about Liu Xiaobo in general.
  3. I don’t blame newer readers of chinaSMACK but the older readers should already know that chinaSMACK has always avoided highly political topics. The current more generic About page doesn’t say so but those who have been following chinaSMACK since its younger days should remember the more personal About page where Fauna explicitly expressed a disinterest in political topics.
  4. If we ignore Fauna’s personal interests as the editorial force behind chinaSMACK, let’s talk about the very real consequences she could face as a Chinese citizen living in China publishing something the Chinese censors are on the prowl for. The least of her worries would be having her blog blocked from China2. That would suck as it is — trust me, I know — and over what? A topic that doesn’t even live up to her blog’s value proposition or her own interests?
  5. Now imagine what the worst of her worries could be. She’s not a foreign national nor is she even safely residing abroad, unlike the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer, or even Roland Soong. Nor does she owe it to anyone to be their political martyr.

Every so often, you might get a translated Chinese netizen comment that criticizes the Chinese government or the less than ideal living situations in China…but don’t get your hopes up. chinaSMACK covers some news, but it isn’t and never was a political news site, much less a “general” news site. It is and has always been an internet gossip site, and quite frankly, it’s pretty good at being what it is. For example, the biggest thing on the Chinese internet right now is indeed Xiao Yue Yue. Granted, chinaSMACK‘s post on her is a bit impotent since it doesn’t exactly convey just why she’s such a big deal right now. But, to be honest, even if Liu Xiaobo’s news wasn’t being censored, I’d still place my bets on Xiao Yue Yue being the bigger news item. Is this a tragedy? I don’t think so. It’s just life. Think about it, more people know about Old Spice Guy than any jailed human rights activist or dissident.

  1. Actually, sometimes those stories aren’t even really that popular but are apparently interesting enough for some of them to translate anyway. []
  2. It wouldn’t likely be “harmonized” or deleted since it is actually physically hosted outside the country. []


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  1. Jones

    I think the guy deserved it. A lot of people try to make a difference in pursuit of peace and human freedom, very few will stick their own neck out and take a lifetime of punishment for it. He deserves the recognition and applause.

    That last part about ChinaSMACK and Fauna was quite the outburst. Anyway, requesting news being translated, just look at it as an active interest in what the Chinese netizens think about it. Building bridges here.

    • Sorry Jones, my fellow chinaSMACK alumni, you haven’t seen some of the stupider, self-entitled things that Fauna has received in the past 12 hours or so. Now, I’m certainly biased because I’ve had the pleasure of working with her, helping each other out and whatnot. She’s a really bright individual and I have a lot of respect and admiration for her. Bottom line is that some people are expressing their “active interest” in less than reasonable ways. I don’t think verbally insulting her person for not catering to or indulging their political interests against her own interests and safety is them “building bridges”.

      • Jones

        Oh, I know. I was trying to cast a bit (a metric ton) of optimism on it with the “building bridges” haha. I saw the news on TV and I’m not joking when ChinaSMACK and the inevitable maybe 300 or so comments came to my mind.

      • Kai – I do believe that a lot of folk that carouse the ‘Net have really no clue what happens beyond their own country’s borders. 4chan/2ch/facebook/etc. does not represent the real world by any stretch of the imagiation.

      • Ted

        Agree, I didn’t expect to see anything about the prize on CSmack. She has her niche.

  2. ChasL

    Kudos Nobel, you just gave the peace prize to an American spy.

    Liu Xiaobo being on Uncle Sam’s payroll, via the NED, is a matter of public record. Check NED’s own China grant publication. Liu took over $650,000 from the US government.

    As a loyal tax payer, I want my money back!

    • xian

      Technically the NED funds anyone that “spreads democracy”, politically motivated perhaps, ‘spy’ might be going to far.

    • Jones

      ChasL, can you provide a link? I searched quite a bit, but all I found was this copy-and-pasted argument about Liu Xiaobo being an “American spy”. I’m not sure how well a spy will do if he is openly receiving money from the US, as you claim, and also spending a bunch of time in prison for operating so openly…but hey, not everyone is good at their job, are they?

      Now, here’s the part where I say you seem very much like you may be on someone else’s payroll, and where you tell me something about your “German sports car” and how much gasoline costs in “Seattle”, and then ask me if there’s a “$500 dollar party” that you can join. I’m right, aren’t I?

    • This is Charles Liu, the same guy who uncritically re-posted death-threats against Liu on Fool’s Mountain back when Charter ’08 first came out. He’s been posting the same thing on every website in the Sinosphere.

      • pug_ster

        You have any proof that it was Charlies Liu? Who knows, maybe Liu Xiaobo is the evil twin of Charles Liu.

      • Charles Liu? Isn’t one of the regular forumflies at the China Daily BBS?

        • Simple, what made him special was Charter ’08. The Charter directly harkens back to the fall of communism in Europe, and specifically points out a plan (realistic or unrealistic) for political reform in China. By going around collecting signatures, Liu Xiaobo was organising a Han-centred, organised opposition to the government. This was exactly the kind of thing which got Guo Quan into trouble – although his sentence was only 10 years. This is what made him a target. But the conviction itself was for the simple act of publishing information critical of the Chinese government with the intent of changing the political system, it did not even, unlike Guo Quan’s case (see the verdict here: http://www.duihua.org/work/verdicts/verdict_Guo%20Quan_en.htm ), refer to Liu’s pro-democracy advocacy beyond that of writing articles.

          • Ooops, this ended up in the wrong place!

          • LoL, I shouldn’t have posted my comment to that huge thread anyway.

            Anyway, yes, we’re going down a better track here. So it wasn’t just his ideas, but it was his actions, his actions of at least creating a central document and then going around collecting signatures, organizing in a manner. So going back to pug_ster and ChasL, I’m asking if their arguments is to suggest his Liu’s foreign assistance made him a more dangerous target.

            I don’t really give the conviction as much stock as you do and I think taking it at face value may not be helpful. What I’m trying to understand is what makes the government act. The “conviction” is a rationalization, not a motivation, to me.

            The reason I’m thinking about this is because a lot of people are guilty of the “simple act of publishing information critical of the Chinese government” even “with the intent of changing the political system”. Of course, “a lot” is relative here but you understand my point. I think there’s a rush to make this as simple as “you can’t speak your mind or advocate change without getting locked up in China” when I don’t think that’s the case. That perpetuates generalizations that aren’t helpful to understanding viable advocacy in China.

            Another reason I’m thinking about this is because of the discussion that surrounded Han Han over the past year or so. Right off the bat, we know that Han Han is far more influential than Liu. His criticisms of the Chinese government reach far more people. Of course, he doesn’t cross certain lines, or he dances around them. But another thing is how “clean” and “home-grown” he is. The guy makes his own money, royalties off his books, perhaps some sponsorships, etc. (I think his racing is a money-losing affair though) and keeps his distance warily away from Western advocacy groups and to an extent the Western media as well. When he appeared on Time, I recall Chinese “liberal intellectuals” cautioning him from getting too close, from getting co-opted by the Western media to become some Chinese political advocate, from being fashioned by the West into some champion against the Chinese government, because that would put him in a tough place. Han Han gets censored, but not really, because he’s so popular his criticisms survive through repostings. He knows this. He knows his greatest risk is having the government convinced that he has become a puppet or proxy for “foreign powers”. He guards his identity as being a Chinese person so his criticisms are unmistakably Chinese as opposed to possibly being influenced by foreigners.

            I’m going off the top of my head here so pardon the dust but as I said, I’m wondering how much foreign assistance weighs on the government’s minds when it comes to determining whether someone is getting too uppity. I know the conviction didn’t say “he’s guilty of colluding with foreign imperialists!” but I think there’s something substantive in considering the significance of any “foreign connection”.

          • Jones

            Wasn’t the original point of contention a la pug_ster about Liu Xiaobo spreading “American propaganda”? It was suggested that Charter 08 was nothing more than American propaganda.

          • pug_ster

            Jones,

            Many here agreed that Liu Xiaobo is financed by the NED to do his work. NED is sponsoring Liu Xiaobo’s work while being Pres­i­dent of the Inde­pen­dent Chi­nese PEN Cen­ter to bring Charter 08 to light, so I believe that Charter 08 is nothing more than American propaganda. I wouldn’t call charter 08 American propaganda if it is not funded by American dollars. I know many people don’t agree with me, but that’s I think.

            As for why I think Liu Xiaobo got 11 years, I think the Chinese government has to draw a line somewhere and probably have to make an example of him. Han Han probably danced around the line but I think he has more of an constructive/comical criticism of certain China’s policies rather than Liu Xiaobo’s less funny “let’s gather signatures to change/reform the government” stance. Han Han doesn’t associate himself with the dissident community, which makes him less of a lightning rod.

          • I think just as, and probably more important in Han Han’s case is that he has not attempted to organise people in anyway, or actually urged any course of action on people. He probably does not want to.

            Contrast this with Guo Quan, who has not, as far as I am aware, been accused by anybody of being associated with foreign organisations. This, however, did not stop him from being imprisoned as a result of writing articles and organising a political party.

            The weight I put on the conviction comes from this – realistically speaking there were other charges that could have been brought against Liu. Spying is one. Treason is another. Sabotage might also work. Such charges could be ‘shown’ merely by, as Charles has, alleging that he worked with foreign powers to ‘harm’ China. Therefore, by choosing subversion charges it appears likely that the government sought to send a specific message to people not to do what Liu Xiaobo was convicted of doing. This is the classic purpose of the law in most countries.

          • @Pug_ster – Propaganda is typified by its content, not by its funding. It is quite possible for someone to produce propaganda without receiving payment. It is also quite possible for someone to receive payment without producing propaganda. Whilst you may suspect a conflict of interest, suspicion is not enough. You must show that the content of the work created by the person so paid comprises an attempt to deceive people to their patron’s point of view in exchange for the payment.

            As an example, Oxfam is one of the world’s largest NGOs. It is partly funded by the British government. Oxfam gives grants to people to perform research. Some of the researchers are also politically active, and write essays. Does this mean that the work produced by these researchers is automatically propaganda (either for the British government or for Oxfam)? Of course not.

            Similarly, the mere allegation that an organisation of which Liu is head received money from an NGO which has received funding from the US government is not enough to render everything Liu does propaganda. To accuse Charter ’08 of being propaganda you need to show more than that.

          • Jones

            Are you saying that the funding was sent to fund the writing of Charter 08, and do you have verifiable proof of that? Or are you just drawing that connection because the same guy who wrote Charter 08 had an organization funded by NED? There’s a big difference. You’re going to have to show evidence that America took an active part in the content and writing of Charter 08 if you want to prove it’s American propaganda.

          • S.K. Cheung

            To KP:
            well said yet again. It’s nice to see a coherent post with nary a mention of “NED”.

            I agree that a “foreign connection” is relevant to his conviction. The question to me is how its relevance compares to other factors.

            Liu was convicted after Charter 08 came out. He had been ‘funded’ by the NED long before that. So clearly, it seems that foreign funding alone was insufficient as an impetus for the CCP to throw down the hammer. But foreign funding + Charter 08 did obviously suffice. So was the Charter the straw that broke the camel’s back, or was it a rebar-laden block of concrete?

            I think your comparison to Han Han is very useful. Here is a guy who is young, photogenic, a race car driver (I mean how cool is that?), self-made financially, with a huge following among the all-important 18-35 demo, who openly criticizes the government while staying away from the no-go zones, and basically gets away with it. He is everything that Liu isn’t. And Liu is where Han Han isn’t. So open clever criticism of the CCP doesn’t buy you prison garb and 3 squares a day, as you have already suggested.

            It seems to me, then, that foreign funding alone, or open criticism alone, is not sufficient these days to raise the CCP’s ire (which I suppose is already some improvement over years gone by). So I think we need to look at the Charter to see what it represents beyond those 2 things.

            The Charter was more than a list of gripes. It conveyed more than merely an intention for bringing change. I think it was actually a road-map for change. It was a how-to manual, with specifics on what needed to change, in what way. It was an enabling piece, missing only the person/event/thing to get the ball rolling. That aspect to me seems to be what took him over the line. Trying to circulate it and garner awareness and support for it further sealed his fate.

            It seems to me, then, that the “foreign connection”, though important, was not the final straw insofar as the CCP is concerned. Ironically, that seems to be the part that gets people’s goat, at least among a subset of Chinese expats living in the US. It would appear that this subset may not be as tapped into the CCP mindset as they would like. One wonders how representative this subset is of the views of Chinese citizens in China.

          • FOARP,

            I agree that “organization” is definitely a major, if not “the” major, factor. It isn’t that Liu has dissenting ideas or thoughts, but what he’s doing. It isn’t that Liu has expressed his ideas or thoughts, but that he’s organizing subversion (in the eyes of the powers that be).

            I still disagree with the weight you put on the conviction because, again, I don’t think its so useful for understanding dissidence in China. Now, as you know, I don’t agree with ChasL’s suggestion that Liu is a spy, but I do