Saturday 30 October 2010

Friday 15 October 2010

A Tale Of Two Dissidents

So the beat goes on. From one side we are assured that Liu Xiaobo is a traitor, an American agent (despite the fact that even the PRC authorities have not made this claim) based on allegations that he received support from organisations like PEN and the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy. From the other side we hear that awarding the Nobel Prize to him was counter-productive. As Nick Young, whose article making this claim in last week's Guardian I criticised, explained to me in an email:

Over the years I came to understand that, alongside the many tensions inherent in China's fast-forward change processes, state-society relations were on the whole adversely affected by the conceited self-righteousness of foreign China-bashers in general, and, in particular, of some internatioal human rights 'advocacy' organisations that busied themselves looking for disaffected Chinese citizens and turning them into prison fodder. That remains my view.

This, of course, from a man who was thrown out of China for writing on political issues.

The main position on both sides appears to be that foreign involvement with Chinese dissidents serves only to dirty them in the eyes of the Chinese public and put them in danger of government reprisals. The supposition appears to be that, had Liu Xiaobo not received support from foreign organisations, then he would perhaps have avoided prison. Unfortunately we cannot go back in time and see what might have happened had he never been associated with foreign organisations.

Or can we? Liu Xiaobo is far from the only dissident held by the Chinese authorities on charges of 'subversion'. We have also the example of former Nanjing Normal University professor, Guo Quan. Unlike Liu Xiaobo, Guo Quan has publicly eschewed association with foreign human rights organisations, and his writings have struck a decidedly nationalistic tone.

Did this save Guo? Clearly not. In fact it is remarkable that, whilst Liu, who cultivated links overseas, is now the subject of high-profile international appeals for his release, Guo Quan remains virtually forgotten even in his own country. Even were there a domestic campaign for Guo's release this would be unlikely to achieve anything, since it would be nigh-on impossible for it to make head-way against government censorship.

Whilst I disagree with Nick Young's characterisation of people like Guo and Liu as merely disaffected individuals, we must admit that they exist in every society, and would exist with or without foreign assistance. The decision, then, is not whether they should be 'created' (in Nick Young's parlance "[turned] into prison fodder"), but whether to support people who will work to improve their society whatever foreign observers do.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Liu Xiaobo and the "Gunpowder Prize"

Hello after a long, work induced, hiatus. Of course yesterday's news of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is still very much in my mind. Here's a few thoughts -

  • Beijing-based talking head and Baidu exec. Kaiser Kuo tweets:
    I predict they wait slightly longer than Japan did with the trawler captain, then Beijing releases Liu for "medical reasons"

    Me, I'm less hopeful. The previous cases in which someone has been released (such as Wan Yanhai) due to noise made in the outside world mainly involved activists who had been detained but not actually been charged. Given the high international profile of Liu's case, the severe nature of his sentence, and the threat to the CCP's rule represented by Charter '08, it seems unlikely that the Beijing government will wish to risk showing weakness in this case. Moreover, Liu is unlikely to take the option of going into exile, as he has previously eschewed doing so when previously detained.

  • Liu Xiaobo and Charter '08 will remain largely unknown inside China because government censorship (which now appears to extend even to text-messaging of Liu's name in pinyin) will prevent the people ever hearing about it. The only ones who will learn about it will consist mainly of the radicalised Fenqing who populate ultranationalist websites like and tie xue. These people will undoubtedly be out in full force to condemn the perceived 'meddling' of western nations in Chinese affairs. Amongst those who are aware of the prize and wish to discuss it, in an effort to avoid automated censorship the Nobel prize (诺奖) has already been renamed the "gunpowder prize" (炸药奖), a reference to Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite.

  • It seems the totalitarianism's useful idiots in the west are also out in force. In this execrable piece in today's Guardian, after paying lip-service to the idea that Liu's imprisonment might be a bad thing (but "not irrational"), Nick Young hails the "unsung heroes" of the CCP (because the CCP's achievements in China are 'unsung'?) whose quiet behind-the-scenes efforts may be jeopardised by the award. The fact that no meaningful results can be seen for such "incremental reform", despite years in which such reform might have gone forward does not appear to register with Mr. Young. The results he touts (the attendance of Chinese NGO's at the Tianjin climate talks) are, quite simply, paltry, and do not seem to have led to a fresh approach to this issue on the part of the CCP. The only part of this piece I can even partly agree with is this:

    The Nobel award will embolden those in China who are most inclined to confrontational tactics

    Whilst Nick Young appears to think this is a bad thing, I do not. Mr. Young apparently believes that the CCP will at some point gradually reform itself out of power. What we have seen, however, is that the CCP has learned the lessons of the fall of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe and is committed to never allowing a centre of power outside its control to form in China. The CCP will therefore never bring about meaningful political reform without open and undeniable pressure to do so. As long as the CCP and its "heroic" members control the dialogue, power will only remain in the hands of its corrupt leadership, only pressure of the kind which this prize will encourage can change this.