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Honoree's Detainment Marks Historic Absence For Nobel Prize

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Honoree's Detainment Marks Historic Absence For Nobel Prize


Honoree's Detainment Marks Historic Absence For Nobel Prize

Honoree's Detainment Marks Historic Absence For Nobel Prize

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, will not be at tomorrow's awards ceremony in Oslo. He’s serving an eleven year sentence for "subversion." And because of a crackdown on dissidents in China, Xiaobo has no representative to receive the prize �" a first for the award in 75 years. Host Michel Martin speaks with NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Gifford about Xiaobo's work and China's reaction to it.


Now we go to China. Now, you might remember a year ago when President Obama traveled to Norway to accept the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Well, tomorrow, in Oslo city hall in Norway, the 2010 peace prize will be awarded to the Chinese literature professor and dissident, Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence in a Chinese prison for, quote, "subversion." He advocated free speech and multiparty elections.

Liu obviously won't make tomorrow's ceremony. But because of a crackdown on dissidents in China, including Liu's wife, who's not been seen in a number of weeks, he will have no representative to pick up the award. That has not happened in 75 years. But not only that, China has been pressuring countries to boycott the event. Eighteen countries are doing so in solidarity with China.

We'd like you to hear about Liu Xiaobo from somebody who knows him well - Yang Jianli, who himself served a 5-year prison term in China. He's now a fellow at Harvard. He's president of the group called Initiatives for China.

Dr. YANG JIANLI (Fellow, Harvard University; President, Initiatives for China): He has been the voice and the face of Chinese democracy movement for more than 20 years. He was the leader in Tiananmen Square. Ever since, he continues to carry the dream of Tiananmen Square movement forward. But I cannot help asking the question, why is the government of such power afraid of a single man that they put in jail?

MARTIN: Again, that was Yang Jianli, who served a 5-year prison term in China, is now living in the U.S. and is a fellow at Harvard. We spoke to him in Oslo.

Now we turn to NPR's Rob Gifford, he's in Shanghai, to talk more about Liu Xiaobo and the boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is being put together by China. Rob, thanks so much for joining us.

ROB GIFFORD: It's great to be here.

MARTIN: What about Yang Jiangli's question? Why is the Chinese government so aggressive about this?

GIFFORD: Well, I think the Chinese government is aggressive about any form of political dissent. The extraordinary thing that has happened over the last 30 years here is that China has entered into this extraordinary economic and social revolution. It's being transformed all around me here. But it is not allowing political dissent, political change and political revolution to be a part of that.

You're allowed to do anything, almost, in China, as long as you don't touch politics. So anyone like Mr. Liu and other people here who have been pushing for political reform, anyone who does that is going to fall afoul of the Communist Party. And on top of that, of course, this is a very high profile award, perhaps the high profile international award.

And I think China feels embarrassed, perhaps humiliated, even, that a man that they consider a subversive, a criminal, has been honored in this way. And they see it, in some ways, I think, as almost part of some kind of Western plot to have a go at China, to criticize China and in some ways to try and undermine China's development.

MARTIN: Was the reaction always thus or has it built over time? I mean, was the reaction the same when the award was initially announced?

GIFFORD: Well, the very strange thing about this, Michel, is that in China, Liu Xiaobo's name has never been known because if you take it back a couple of decades, he was part of the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and he was jailed for what he did there, leading the student movement.

But then basically he went to jail, he's been in and out of jail for the last 20 years, but he disappeared off the Chinese media radar. So, when it was announced that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, most Chinese people - and I was here and I was asking them, and they were saying who's he? Nobody knew who he was.

The Chinese government, on the other hand, knew very well, of course, and initially they were a little bit slow, actually. They didn't immediately jump on it and start vilifying him. But we've had this campaign that's been building over the last few weeks really, to vilify Liu Xiaobo and to accuse Western governments of using him as a pawn to try to destabilize China.

MARTIN: And, of course, part of the campaign to discredit Liu Xiaobo is to try to keep people from going to the ceremony, including Liu's wife. We asked Yang Jianli, whom we heard from earlier, where is she? And this is what he had to say.

Dr. YANG: She decided on October 16th to entrust me as her representative to the Nobel committee to put together the award ceremony. And just a few days later, we have lost contact with her. We haven't heard from her for more than one-and-a-half month already. We have no idea where she is. She has been made missing by the Chinese government. Her family members also disappeared and we tried to contact them and have not been successful.

MARTIN: Rob, is the U.S. government or any other governments putting pressure on China to produce Mrs. Liu, or to allow some family members, at least, to be seen or heard?

GIFFORD: Well, I'm sure the U.S. government and other Western governments have been putting pressure on the Chinese government. But I think that the Chinese government is not listening very much. It feels very strongly that it doesn't want to be lectured on human rights. That's always been the way. As to where Liu Xiaobo's wife, we simply don't know. What we do know is that as many 200 dissidents and activists, people known to the Chinese government to be - as they would see it - subversive and pushing for political reform. They have been detained, so there's been a real crackdown over the last few weeks.

MARTIN: Now, we had reported earlier, it's been reported that China is exerting pressure over a number of countries to also to boycott the ceremony. And I wanted to ask you about that, finally, before we let you go. Who are some of the countries on that list? And what form is this pressure taking or are these countries acting in ideological solidarity with China for their own reasons, or some of both?

GIFFORD: Well, it's largely countries that are close allies of the Chinese. As we know, the Chinese have much greater clout. They have a lot more influence in the world these days and they have been using that to say to people, hey, look, if you want to deal with us, we don't want you to go to this ceremony. Frankly speaking, though, none of the major Western countries have bowed to this, as you would expect.

Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, some Arab countries, some Central Asian countries, Southeast Asian countries are going along with China in this. It shows China is having more impact. To those countries it's more important not to annoy China than it is to stand up for human rights. So that says something. But I think, still, tomorrow, we're going to see a lot of support for Liu Xiaobo, and indeed for political reform in China.

The missing link, as many people in the West see it in all the social and economic reform that has been going on - and I think we should give credit where credit is due. It is amazing. I'm living here in Shanghai. The social and economic reform is amazing. It's just that for many people in the West, now, including the Nobel Committee, that needs to start to include some political reform as well.

MARTIN: Rob Gifford is an NPR foreign correspondent. He joined us from Shanghai. Rob, thank you.

GIFFORD: Thank you very much, indeed, Michel.

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