Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Prize on a Hazy SaturWorkDay in Beijing

This weekend weekend on a hazy work day on a Saturday in Beijing.  Since this past week was the week-long national holiday celebration, yesterday was a national day of make-up work when all Chinese employees are expected to report to work.
Night time pollution shines like halos around the Beijing street lights.

The haze hides the buildings across the street.

After a string of blue sky days last month, pollution has been particularly bad for Beijing this October.  According to the US Embassy Twitter feed on air quality (banned from China's networks), the particulate matter levels have been at "hazardous" levels for the fifth straight day.  As an international conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 60 miles away in Tianjin "shows little signs" of progress, the haze has clouded the sun in an eerie bluish blanket like something out of a science fiction movie from the not so distant future.   Meanwhile, the China Open tennis tournament has had to turn on the flood lights during midday matches, and, as reuters reports
Air quality is so bad at the China Open in Beijing that players should have access to oxygen tanks on court to help them breathe through the smog, says world number two Novak Djokovic.
Back in Oslo, the Nobel committee awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo ( 刘晓波).  The former Columbia University literature professor has been a human rights activist since leaving his American position to join the hunger strikers during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest (similar to the Mongolian protests the next year) and June 4th "Beijing massacre," did his first term in prison, detailed in an LA Times feature.  He will spend the his awards ceremony in a Chinese prison cell where he is serving an 11 year sentence for "subversion" for drafting a circulating a petition known as Charter 08 to allow more political and press freedom in China (named after a similar petition of the Czechoslovakians during the Prague Spring of 1968 quite similar to the Cuban Varela Project in 1998 made possible by the internet that used the limited legislative institutions to push reform).

The Chinese government responded with threats to Norwegian-Chinese relations and coercive silence internally.  In general, the topic of the Tiananmen protests of 1989 is still not up for discussion, as google has found out (A brief history is online at the NYTimes).  Though unprecedented and something of a turning point in recent Chinese history, young people are not generally aware of the events of that Spring.  Even the physical landscape of the Square has been changed in the last two decades, sorrounded by gates, checkpoints and metal detectors that prevent any free movement that could create a situation that even briefly looked like 1989.

During the Nobel committee's announcement, CNN and BBC were completely blacked out.  Afterwords, Chinese websites removed all mention of the Nobel Peace Prize, and "Liu Xiaobo" and the "Nobel Peace Prize" were censored from search engines. Within Chinese media, the prize was only discussed in one English language editorial in the Global times (bemoaning the "anti-China" purpose of the prize "loaded with Western ideology" that wants to see China collapse like the Soviet Union).  The foreign ministry reportedly described the decision as "blasphemy."  The controversial cartoonist Kuang Biao reportedly put a cartoon of the nobel prize behind bars on his sina.com blog, but I have been unable to find the image.

Liu Xiaobo for his part has not been able to communicate with the world outside of his prison.  His wife was taken out of Beijing by uniformed police who kept her from a press conference she planned to hold, and  told her she was being taken to visit her husband.  She is apparently now on house arrestDeutche-Presse reports that many activist colleagues of Liu Xiaobo have been followed, put on house arrest, or taken into custody.  According to the report from this weekend, some activists seem to have been disappeared.  Their phones are not working and no one had yet heard where they were at the time the article went to print.

The Washington Post has an editorial suggesting that the prize may do Liu and his allies more harm than good.

The legacy of the 1989 protests is a complicated and controversial topic that i am ill prepared to write much about, but its echos clearly continue bouncing a generation later, as in this case, from the cell blocks of Jinzhou prison to the stage of Oslo's City Hall.

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