Liu Xiaobo and the '300 Years' Problem

Unfortunately I am way behind in discussions of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese civil-liberties activist whose selection for the Nobel Peace Prize has predictably touched off indignant responses from the Chinese government. For instance, from the English version of People's Daily this week:

>>This disregard of Chinese laws [since Liu is in jail] and a gross interference in China's internal affairs made some Western scholars immediately question the reasonableness of the composition of the Nobel Committee, the faithful execution of the prize founder's behest and the independence of the Committee's actual operation, and enabled Chinese people see more clearly that the Nobel Peace Prize is an award that has been led astray politically.<<

As a minor installment, and as a handy Western reader's guide to arguments you might hear from official Chinese sources, it's worth mentioning the two main lines of denunciation of Liu by authorities and by Chinese netizens following the official line.

One is the "300 years of colonialism" criticism -- denunciations of Liu for having said, in an interview back in 1988, that it had taken 100 years of British colonialism to bring Hong Kong up to its level of development and public order, and that it might take 300 years to do the same for the Chinese mainland. As mentioned earlier, I've received dozens of emails from Chinese readers saying that this proves Liu's hatred for his homeland and his countrymen. Meta-point: as mentioned recently, Westerners often forget how close to the surface and easily aroused are Chinese resentments and suspicions about mistreatment and disrespect from the Western world from the colonial era onward.

The other is the "foreign paymasters" criticism: revelations that Liu has indirectly received money from the US government. Indirect chain of payment: The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, non-governmental group in the US, but it gets most of its money via the US Congress. The NED gives grants to many hundreds of private pro-civil-society groups around the world. Among these are Independent Chinese PEN Center and Democratic China magazine; Liu has been president of the first and editor of the second, and has received NED funding in those capacities. Indeed, just after his selection, the NED had an announcement expressing congratulations to Liu as its "grantee." That page no longer turns up on the NED's site, but the cached version is here (and a mention of it here, with now-broken link). [Update: a NED official has sent in a currently functioning link, here, to the release.]

UPDATE: Further discussion of NED + Liu is available on the NED blog, including here, here, and here.

For discussion about how these arguments are being used against Liu, and how they're being exaggerated and distorted, see this post ("Dumb Arguments about Liu Xiaobo") on ChinaGeeks, plus this earlier assortment of reactions in and around China. Plus this report on current official reactions to Liu. And after the jump, a reaction from a Chinese reader on both of these points and Liu's role generally. More shortly.

A reader with a Chinese name writes:

>>1. His 300 years colonial rule remark is likely to be true. I can't find a westen source on this. But I remember clearly I heard it mentioned on radio in May 1989 when government propoganda attacked the student demonstration (not militarily yet). So even if it is a fabrication, it is not done recently.

2. Another charge against him in Chinese internet discussion forum is that he received $650,000 grant from NED (National Endowment for Democracy). This is usually cited as the justification for Chinese government jailing him. Since NED is funded by US congress, if this is true, it does not look good on him especially to nationalist Chinese....

3. I don't think he should be jailed , in particular since his speech and actions posed no threats to the communist government. But I don't think he has done enough to deserve Nobel prize either. Before the announcement, he is completely unknown to almost all Chinese, even to overseas Chinese. And those big words freedom, democracy excite few ordinary Chinese nowdays. Chinese people already enjoy high level of personal freedom. As long as the economy prospers, not many people care about electing officials directly. So he has almost zero influence on current Chinese politics. If in 20 years time, Chinese Communist rule collapes, he emerges as a prophet and inspiration, a Nobel prize would be more fitting then. <<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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