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.


Rand(45) said...

Since the CCP will never agree to reform to a less powerful political entity, the only way for meaningful reform is China is follow the ancient Chinese cultural heritage for meaningful political reform. Just look back at the 3000 years (3000, not 5000, Chinese "culture" has not lasted 5000 years) years of Chinees political reforms will provide the answer. Even those in the last 100 years will tell you what works and what doesn't.

Catherine said...

FOARP: Is this Nick Young the same as the one who used to run China Development Brief? As far as my recollection goes, the website was shut down a couple of years ago and he was forced to leave China. May be this report he wrote (re: Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Price) is his desperate attempt to get back on the CCP's good side.

By the way, Liu Xiaobo, Charter 08 and Liu's Nobel Peace Prize award are not as unknown within China as you're describing in your post. Chinese people are much more resourceful in by-passing the censors than it has been portrayed in the English language media.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Catherine - According to this bio he is the very same man:

Which makes this ridiculous piece even more startling.

Ji Xiang said...

China is not a "totalitarian" country, as it is lazily called in this entry, but at most an authoritarian one. The word totalitarianism does not fit present-day China at all.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Ji Xiang - Unfortunately the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism is not so clear cut that you can draw that distinction so easily. As I'm sure you are aware, the first state to be referred to as such (and approvingly so by its own politicians) was Italy under Mussolini - a state in at least some ways more liberal than that which presently holds sway on the Chinese mainland.

James Baron said...

Well said G. It was indeed a shameful apology for the CCP's abuses.

Anonymous said...

@ Ji Xiang. I certainly agree with your point. For a totalitarian society organised around a Confucian view of the world, go to North Korea. China is definitely not a totalitarian society as the State no longer organises the domestic sphere of peoples lives eg who to marry, divorce, entertainment, where you live, and to a greater degree how you live your life.

These are not particularly helpful terms in describing diverse social formations such as the old Soviet Union, Mussolini's Italy, Nazi Germany, and similar. For every very general common denominator, you can find a raft of other much more important differences.

For the PRC today. It is top down polical command and a rejection of bottom up liberal democratic forms of government. While the Chinese empire does include other ethnicities, and it definitely treats them with a heavy hand, there is no Nazi conception of the pure organic state/community and genocide for the rest.

I leave it for someone else to characterise the economy. Mercantilism?

Suffice to say, one needs a lot more concepts than either of these two to adequately capture the nature of China today.

Communism and fascism were revolutiony doctrines which rejected liberal democratic politics. What China is attempting today is equally revolutionary in a generic sense, but that is not saying much, and I've yet to find a succinct analytical/conceptual account which joins together the main themes in China's economy, society/culture and political system of governemt. IE an account which you could rush to print with.


Gilman Grundy said...

@KT - As I said, at least according to the original creators of the idea of totalitarianism, China certainly qualifies, since the CCP can exercise control over all areas of life as it has the entire power of the state concentrated in its hands. For a government policy which controls one of the most simple of biological imperatives, reaching beyond the government control of mere domestic arrangements, see the one-child policy. For freedom of movement, see the Hukou system. For marriage, thankfully the work-unit arranged marriages are no longer seen, but specific rules do govern the inter-marriage of Han PLA members and ethnic minorities, and the planned marriage of atheletes is also well-known phenomenon.

If only the attempts at thought-control found in Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, North Korea and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge qualify as totalitarian, this excludes other states such as Nazi German and Fascist Italy, both of which were more liberal in some areas than modern-day China. If policies of racial discrimination are a pre-requisite of totalitarianism, then this excludes regimes which were undoubtedly totalitarian like Cambodia and China under Mao.

The best description for China's political system is the one used by the CCP itself - Leninism. The CCP practices "democratic centralism" under the leadership of the "vanguard party". This is to say, the concentration of all political power in the hands of a single party which then makes the decisions. I think there are few people who would disagree that Leninism can be and has been a totalitarian political system.

My point here is not that it is wrong to call China an authoritarian state, or use other such language to describe the CCP dictatorship. My point is that when Jixiang says that describing China's present government as totalitarian is incorrect, he is redefining the word "totalitarian" as something at odds with its historical usage.

Finally, I think it would be news to most North Koreans that their state is "Confucian". Given the concentration on praising the leadership in books, media, and education, it is quite possible that most North Koreans do not even know who Confucius is.

It is odd that people are increasingly using the term "Confucian" to simply refer to the states of East Asia. Is the Lukashenko regime of Belarus an example of a dictatorship organised around a "Christian" point of view? Is the Castro regime on Cuba "Christian"? Yet in Cuba and Belarus there are still many practising Christians, whilst most people in East Asia know little more about Confucius than a few quotes.