Proud or shamed: intellectuals react to Nobel win

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 October, 2010, 12:00am

Mainland intellectuals are torn between pride at Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize and shame that they did not do more themselves to advance the causes he champions.

A day after the Nobel committee's announcement, and with the Charter 08 founder's wife, Liu Xia, hoping to break the news to him in prison, Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing-based lawyer, said that the award would encourage intellectuals to live up to their public responsibility by generating more 'constructive new thinking'.

Ai Weiwei, a leading artist and social critic, said intellectuals should feel ashamed of themselves because many had betrayed the values they once strove for and had drifted away from their public responsibilities.

Still, he said, it was the regime that should feel most ashamed.

It was ironic, he said, that 'while on the one hand there has been such tremendous economic development, people can still be sent to prison for 11 years on groundless charges'. Liu was jailed for 11 years on December 25 for subversion.

Ai admitted that Charter 08's demands were very mild. 'But there is nothing wrong with raising a mild demand, so long as you don't slow the pace of reform,' he said. 'We cannot afford to continue to go slow, because it has been like this for not just six years, but for some 60 years now.'

He sees the Nobel Peace Prize as a signal by the international community to China that, for all its economic performance, the government should learn also to respect mankind's universal values.

Cui Weiping, a professor of art theory at the Beijing Film Academy, said the award was recognition not just of Liu, and not just of the present generation, but of all prisoners of conscience in China, including those jailed in the Cultural Revolution and the 'anti-rightist' campaign under Mao Zedong . 'It is a call for democracy,' she said. 'And it is a very good piece of news.'

Cui was more upbeat than Ai in saying that many young people, including those in their 20s, felt encouraged by the news.

'I got text messages from them almost immediately after the announcement of the award.

'They are as touched as we are by the ideals and values that we share, and by the fact that ways to pursue them cannot be entirely blocked.'

Hu Xingdou , a professor at Beijing University of Technology, said that the Nobel committee's decision should be welcomed by the central government, even if for the time being it could not afford to go very fast in building a constitutional democracy.

'From a historical perspective,' he said, 'aren't freedom and democracy the goals of the Communist Party of China from the first day of its founding? Aren't they the values that so many people died for during the revolution?'

Hu said the prize should not be taken as encouragement to rush the job. 'First, China must develop constitutional democracy.

'But second, that must proceed in an orderly fashion, following proper ways of practice.'

Veteran economist Mao Yushi said there were several forces working towards China's political reform, and that the peace prize represented international impetus.

The economist, who is in his late 70s, was himself a victim of the anti-rightist campaign in 1957.

A member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences until he retired, he is head of the private Beijing-based Unirule Institute of Economics.

Mao agreed with Ai Weiwei that Charter 08, which Liu helped launch and which he himself signed, does not make strongly worded demands. Nevertheless, the government had seen it as an unfriendly move and had reacted by jailing Liu - a breach of the constitution that risked international embarrassment.

Some intellectuals, among them Zhang Ming, a Renmin University professor, doubt the awarding of the prize to Liu will have much direct impact. But Mao said: 'Political reform will come, sooner or later. We know there is also debate within the regime as to what to do. Which opinion will gain the upper hand is still hard to predict, but whatever happens it is hard to change the general direction.'

Giving the prize to Liu would influence the process, he said, and not only China's current leaders but the successors who will emerge in 2012 would have to reckon with that.




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