Professor: Nobel Will Give Chinese Activists Courage

Robert Siegel talks with Perry Link, a professor at the University of California and scholar of Chinese language and literature, about Liu Xiaobo. Liu, an imprisoned activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. The decision was hailed by many, but opposed by a group of Chinese dissidents abroad.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

More now on the award of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to the imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo. It was hailed by many. It was actually opposed by a group of Chinese dissidents abroad.

I'm joined now by Professor Perry Link of the University of California Riverside, who is both a scholar of Chinese language and literature, and also someone very familiar with Chinese pro-democracy activists, among them, Liu Xiaobo. Welcome to the program.

Professor PERRY LINK (University of California Riverside): My pleasure, especially on a day like this.

SIEGEL: Obviously your reaction to the selection is very positive. Why? What's so important to you?

Prof. LINK: It's important for China at two levels, in my view. One is that all of the so-called dissidents and the bloggers and activists and others who are working so hard to try to make China a better place will be mightily supported by this. It will give them a lot of courage and momentum that they didn't have before.

But they are, after all, still only a very small part of the population. The larger significance, I think, for the whole of China is - and this is a long range thing - that it opens up for people to think and feel that China is something more than what the Communist Party of China always represents it to be.

The party for the last two decades especially has tried to stimulate Chinese nationalism and induce the attitude that nationalism is us. And this kind of a prize will let people eventually, in the long term, start to see that, no, there's a different kind of China. There's a better China. There's a new China, the kind that Liu Xiaobo in his Charter 08 has very carefully spelled out.

SIEGEL: The Nobel citation calls Liu the foremost symbol of struggle for human rights in China. Is that word foremost pretty accurate or did they choose among several who might equally well have received this prize?

Prof. LINK: It's much more accurate after they've made this decision than before. It's important to point out that Liu Xiaobo himself was part of a group. And the document Charter 08 was really a group product. So from that point of view, the choice of Liu Xiaobo is a bit arbitrary. It's the correct one, by the way. I think because he was fingered by the government and put in prison for 11 years.

SIEGEL: What should we make of the letter signed by 14 Chinese activists who live outside China - some of whom, though, had been imprisoned in China before - who denounced this prize, especially because of Liu's statement during his subversion trial titled, I Have No Enemies. What is the issue here?

Prof. LINK: All of these people are my friends. I more or less hate to say this, but for the benefit of your huge audience I would say that it's natural among this group of people to feel rivalries. And I view it mostly as a wish that one of the rest of us could have received this prize.

SIEGEL: But you're alluding to jealousy there. I mean, are there actual substantive differences in what people think ought to be done in China today by the dissident community?

Prof. LINK: In the larger picture, no, I don't think. This is an ironic thing about these - I prefer the word rivalries to jealousies - but I think the people who signed that letter would buy into the vision that Charter 08 puts out there.

SIEGEL: But they seem to fault him for being too conciliatory was the accusations.

Prof. LINK: There was a statement that he made shortly after he was detained and sent to prison that said he has no enemies, that he feels his treatment in the prison has been reasonable and good and so on. And this raised a lot of eyebrows, including mine, I might say. But I don't think that that represents a fundamental policy difference that he would have with the others.

SIEGEL: Professor Link, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. LINK: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That Professor Perry Link of University of California Riverside talking with us about the Nobel Peace Prize awarded today to the Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Nobel Peace Win Could Boost Reformers In China

Chinese officials reacted angrily to the news that this year's Nobel Peace Prize has gone to the country's most prominent dissident, but analysts say the decision could provide an opportunity for Chinese leaders who favor human rights reform.

Pro-democracy protesters hold a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo i i

Pro-democracy protesters hold a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with Chinese words reading: "Nobel Peace Prize winner held in jail is China's shame" and "Release Liu Xiaobo and all dissidents," during a demonstration Friday in Hong Kong. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP
Pro-democracy protesters hold a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo

Pro-democracy protesters hold a picture of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo with Chinese words reading: "Nobel Peace Prize winner held in jail is China's shame" and "Release Liu Xiaobo and all dissidents," during a demonstration Friday in Hong Kong.

AP

China's official reaction has been to condemn the Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee, saying it violated its own principles by awarding the prize to "a criminal" — dissident Liu Xiaobo.  The 54-year-old writer and human-rights activist is currently serving an 11-year prison term for "subversion."

President Obama issued a statement calling on the Chinese government to release Liu, and he compared the cost of Liu's achievement to that of his own Nobel Peace Prize:

"Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I.  That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs."

Sophie Richardson, of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch, said Liu's Nobel Prize is "a very public challenge" to China's human-rights record, and one that's likely to trigger a debate between government hardliners and those who favor a more moderate approach.

Liu Xiaobo

Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese scholar and human rights advocate who is currently serving an 11-year term in prison for "subversion."  He began his career as an activist during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and has been repeatedly arrested since then for demanding democratic reforms in China.

Before Tiananmen, he traveled outside China as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, the University of Oslo and the University of Hawaii.

This is his fourth prison term on political charges, ranging from "counter-revolutionary propaganda" to "disturbing public order."  The latest sentence is connected with his work in co-writing and promoting "Charter 08," a manifesto calling for protection of human rights, free speech and free elections in China.

In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu has been recognized with the 2004 Fondation de France prize as a defender of press freedom.

Richardson says the most immediate reaction is likely to be a wave of curiosity about Liu, as millions of ordinary Chinese try to find out more about him and why he was sentenced to prison.

She says it's also likely to lead to more publicity for "Charter 08," a document that Liu co-authored, which calls for greater political freedom in China and an end to the dominance of the Communist Party.

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Liu's peace prize could provide a greater opening for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who she says has been talking about political reform lately, including the right to monitor and criticize the government.

"Wen Jiabao has been echoing a lot of what Liu Xiaobo was talking about," she says.

Richardson says Liu's case reflects the ongoing debate between hardliners and relative moderates in the Chinese leadership. Liu's dissent had been somewhat tolerated, but his involvement with the "Charter 08" manifesto angered hardliners and led to his trial and imprisonment last year.

Liu Xiaobo in 2008 i i

This Oct. 28, 2008, file photo shows Liu Xiaobo reading a letter beside the grave of Bao Zunxin, a Chinese historian and political dissident who was arrested and jailed for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests in Beijing. Associated Press hide caption

itoggle caption Associated Press
Liu Xiaobo in 2008

This Oct. 28, 2008, file photo shows Liu Xiaobo reading a letter beside the grave of Bao Zunxin, a Chinese historian and political dissident who was arrested and jailed for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests in Beijing.

Associated Press

Chinese state media blacked out the news of Liu's Nobel Prize, and censors blocked reports about it from the Internet in China.

Chinese officials said the decision would harm its relations with Norway, whose parliament chooses the Nobel Peace Prize committee.

The officials refused to allow access to Liu in prison Friday, and it was not even clear whether he knew of the award.  He may not find out until his wife is able to meet him at the prison, which is about 300 miles from Beijing.

Liu's wife, Liu Xia, issued a statement welcoming the award and the attention it would bring to his case.

"As the [Nobel] Committee recognized, China's new status in the world comes with increased responsibility.  China should embrace this responsibility, have pride in his selection, and release him from prison," the statement said.

Protestors demonstrate to free Liu Xiaobo i i

Protesters demonstrate in support of freeing Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, in Hong Kong on Friday. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
Protestors demonstrate to free Liu Xiaobo

Protesters demonstrate in support of freeing Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, in Hong Kong on Friday.

AFP/Getty Images

Economy says it will likely take some time for the Chinese government to get over "the backlash of embarrassment" created by the award, and that signs of the debate among China's leadership are likely to emerge "not in the next few weeks, but in the next few months."

"You'd have to see the opening coming not just from [Premier] Wen, but from other Chinese leaders in the Politburo," Economy says.

Meanwhile, Richardson says the prize and the attention it has brought to China's human-rights issues will be a concern for the officials, such as Xi Jinping and Li Kejiang, who are expected to take over China's leadership in the next few years.

She says it's likely that they will consider freeing him when they come to power.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.