Confucius Peace Prize: What does China Think?

Written by ANTONY OU

Thursday, 09 December 2010 10:35

Liu_XiaoboLiu Xiaobo, a Chinese public intellectual, has drafted the Charter 08. It is a manifesto co-signed by other 350 human rights activists aim at improving political liberty and democratization of China. It is a document published on 10th December 2008, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It resembles to the anti-Soviet Charter 77 signed by Czechoslovakia, which tried to achieve similar political objectives. Liu later was sentenced for 11 years by the Chinese political authority under the name of “inciting subversion of state power”. Less than two years later, he was granted the Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is furious about the decision and gathered other countries to boycott the Nobel Prize Ceremony (I don’t know whether the authority boycotts the Norwegian Salmon as well). Moreover, Liu, his family and other human rights activists are prohibited to attend the ceremony.

A Party-approved newspaper named Global Times proposed that China should create its own award as the “counterhegemon” of the Nobel Peace Prize. The “Confucius Peace Prize” was later established after three weeks. The awards committee chairman Tan Changliu has announced that the first honouree is Lien Chan, the former Chairman of Kuomintang and the former vice president of Taiwan, since he has managed to make peace for the cross-strait relations. Contentious debates have been triggered.

The Nouveau riche is emerging in China. They are the “commodity fetishists” who help sustain the business of Hermes, Channel and Louis Vuitton. However, China had never been an egalitarian society and the economic gap between the rich and poor is widening. The pollution, like corruption, is irreversible. Social problems are wide-ranging and increasingly intractable. Liu Xiaobo and other activists see all these problems, “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”, they humbly ask for gradual democratization and justice. The government persecutes them and boycott others who agree with those universal values. In the name of Confucius, the term “peace” has been reinterpreted for the sake of “face saving”. As a political pessimist, I desperately ask, “what does China think?”


“The “Confucius Peace Prize” is the most ridiculous and pathetic award I have ever heard in my life”


The Anti-Confucius Movement (1973-1975) was one of the devastating political advocacies implemented by the CCP. Led by the Red Guards, Chinese people were mobilized to destroy their own cultural heritage by tearing down Confucius temples and statues. Scholars, students and workers published thousands of essays and books to criticize Confucianism as a fundamental problem to the devolvement of the new nation. It was the “opium of the mass” to every Chinese.

After more than 30 years, initiated by the CCP, Confucius becomes the most important symbol of China, and replaces the status of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. After all, for the nationalistic country, Confucius is regarded as a “Chinese”. The term “Chinese” is indeed a very vague concept, since it can relate to any ancient feudal state ever existed, which is now geographically within the PRC boundary. Confucius was born, raised and worked in the State of Lu (now PRC Shangdong province). In the eyes of the people, Confucius must be a “Chinese”.

Right now, Confucius Institutes are basically everywhere. The manifest functions of this kind of institute, according the CCP, aim at promoting Chinese culture and teaching Putonghua—the official language of Modern China. Contrastingly, the latent function of such institute is to enhance the “soft power” of China by encouraging foreigners to appreciate a new image of China and its underlying value system—this is what “co-option and attraction” is all about. Every time when I meet a new Chinese friend, I would ask him or her a question, “did Confucius speak Putonghua?” The answers are usually hesitant Yeses. Even for historians, they could never be absolutely sure of what Confucius’s speech sounded like. However, since Confucius is a “Chinese”, he must have to speak the same language with modern Chinese people.

“Face” is one of the key features of Chinese politics, which could possibly be an “anti-thesis” of rational choice theory. The concept remotely relates to the western concept of “dignity”. Combining with different Chinese verbs, it generates multiple meanings including 1) “tearing up face”— hurting someone’s dignity, 2) “giving face”—showing respects to other people, 3) “losing face”—losing dignity and 4) “fighting face”—gaining respects from others. These features can explain the recent political actions of the authority instead of any cost-benefit analysis or calculation of utility.

Although the government needs to suppress the internal pressure for democratization by jailing Liu Xiaobo, the CCP does not necessarily need to go that far by launching a diplomatic war against Oslo. To the Chinese government, what the Nobel Prize Committee did was an act of “tearing up face” or a challenge to its authority. Therefore, the Chinese government “loses face”. In order to “fight back its face”, the CCP gangs up with other countries including Russia to protest against the ceremony. After that, it sets up a prize for its friend, Lien Chan, which is another obvious gesture of “giving face”. Václav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic (who signed the Charter 77), told the press that China should not be angry like a child and should make rational decisions on this issue. However, it seems to me that the authorities of China are too obsessed with the illusionary idea of a “Central Kingdom”, where “people from the Four Seas always show their sincerest respects and gratitude”.

Liu Xiaobo is the “new enemy from within” of the CCP, replacing other enemies such as the Tibetan exile Dala Lama. Apart from taking away Liu’s personal freedom, the CCP attempts to use Confucius as an anachronistic symbol in order to take over the unshakable Nobel Prize. This is what China thinks.

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