It is never interesting if there is only one voice on a subject, especially a hot one. The hot topic at the moment, needless to say, is the awarding to Liu Xiaobo of the Nobel Peace Prize. Outside China, acclamations can be heard everywhere, in mainstream media and on Twitter.
The interesting question: is anyone saying anything different? (The Chinese government doesn't count, and its blocking of the news and discussion is plain stupid given the 1.39 million Chinese students studying abroad and emailing constantly to their families and friends, which makes the blocking hardly effective.)
There is one tiny voice in the mainstream media that discusses the Nobel Peace Prize's possible negative consequences for the future. Interested readers might want to read Granite Studio's comment (update: and Peking Duck's).
What I find most curious is the emergence of Liu Xiabo's detractors from two opposite camps, with views that are not necessarily what I would expect.
On one side, some unhappy overseas Chinese in online forums have dug up an interview Liu Xiaobo did with a Hong Kong publication 22 years ago, in which Liu said the only way for China to make fundamental changes is to be a colony (of the West) for at least 300 years. "Hong Kong took one hundred years to become the way it is today, " Liu reportedly said, "China is so big, of course it needs three hundred years as a colony to be like Hong Kong. I even doubt if three hundred years are enough."
It is not surprising that this quote would piss off many Chinese, especially those with strong nationalist sentiments. However Liu said this in 1988, a year before the June 4th massacre, at which time mainland Chinese intellectuals' resentment toward the government ran much higher than it does today. I myself may not view the West as highly as Liu did, but even though I disagree with this opinion, I can certainly understand where the talk came from – I was around then and said radical things as well. It is also hard to know if Liu really meant what he said; it could have simply been an emotional expression. In the same interview, he said "I very much thank the Cultural Revolution. I was a child then, I could do whatever I wanted to. Parents were gone doing the revolution. Schools ceased classes. I was able to temporarily get rid of educational procedures, and do what I wanted to do, to play, to fight, I lived happily." Does this mean he had a positive assessment of the CR? No. If you read through the context, that's just his way of talking, and can't reasonably be held against him. Similarly, he also said if his English were good enough, he would have nothing to do with China, as if he didn't care about the country, but his actions prove otherwise. His persistent and courageous fight for China's democratic future is certainly a stronger demonstration of allegiance than those spoken words.
A report from BBC Chinese.com on the four intellectuals who participated in the 1989 Tiananmen hunger strike is helpful in understanding Liu's more radical position than his three comrades. Personally, I find Hou Dejian's view resonate more: "If China's democracy and rule of law can be achieved without shedding blood and without [mass] movements on the street, that is my first wish. Even if this means it might happen more slowly, I'd be willing to let it happen a little more slowly." But Hou has quit, while Liu keeps fighting. I suspect some degree of radicalism is necessary to sustain a fighter's spirit, not to forget there's also plenty of rationality in Liu's actions. Regardless of our differences, I admire Liu's unyielding effort; China's political reform needs the constant push from brave people like him.
On the other side, the famous dissident Wei Jingsheng, who was also a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, reportedly said that many other Chinese are better qualified than Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize, because Liu is too moderate as a democracy activist and is more willing to cooperate with the Chinese government. (What a contrasting image to Liu's talk above, which apparently is still not radical enough to Wei. Does Wei think the existence of the Nobel Peace Prize is for the most extreme activists?) This opinion is not new, as a number of dissidents, besides Wei, have said similar things by openly writing to the Nobel Prize Committee twice in opposition to Liu's nomination. If these protests reflect internal struggles within the disintegrating community of the so-called "overseas Chinese democracy movement," one might
So that's what is curious, the fact that Liu Xiaobo, as a democracy activist, is simultaneously viewed by elements of the dissident camp as too cooperative with the government, and as extremely unpatriotic by other Chinese. His sometimes radical words and often more rational behavior make him an ever interesting character to study.
Update (10/11): An analysis by Globe Voices's Andy Lee (h/t The China Beat for the link) sheds light on Liu Xiaobo's transformation before and after the 1989 student movement, which is relevant to the discussion here:
In an essay reprinted in the website China in Perspective, Cheng Yinghong, a Chinese scholar, described this shift in Liu’s ideological orientation as from romanticism to empiricism; in style as from arrogance to humility:
[Andy Lee's translation:] In Liu Xiaobo’s eyes, if repression on the individual and human nature in the 1980s was due to cultural or transcendental reasons, then today’s repression is due to more empirical reasons such as the country’s political system. Therefore, though the targets have changed, his sympathy and humanity have not. And this is what links the two Liu Xiaobo’s together.