ND Expert: Nobel Prize to imprisoned Chinese activist celebrated by compatriots in spite of official reaction

Lionel Jensen

Though China’s foreign ministry called the award “a desecration” and has warned that it will come at the expense of diplomatic ties between Norway and China, the Nobel Peace Prize recently bestowed upon Chinese literary critic and activist Liu Xiaobo should be considered an honor “bestowed in a spirit of recognizing how far China has come, having delivered more than a quarter of a billion people from absolute poverty and opening itself to the world,” according to Lionel Jensen, University of Notre Dame professor of East Asian languages and cultures.

One of eight principal authors of “Charter 08,” which called for democratic reforms in China, Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in authoring the manifesto.

“But for those who know and admire Liu, the award has provided a flash of inspiration and excitement. Chinese activists and reformers communicated on Twitter about trying to organize celebrations when they heard he had been awarded the Peace Prize,” Jensen says.

Those Chinese citizens who openly celebrated the announcement were met with police crackdowns and arrests, and CNN’s live coverage of the announcement was removed from the airways as citizens saw nothing but black screens.

“Internet portals interdicted all searches for ‘Nobel’ and ‘Liu Xiaobo,’” Jensen says. “On mobile phones his name was blocked. Still, those who wished to post their feelings about Liu’s receipt of the prize did so furtively (and successfully) by numerous circumlocutions of the name ‘Liu Xiaobo.’”

Liu’s fellow citizens were undoubtedly proud of this achievement, because it conferred a dimension of international recognition China has long desired—the Nobel Peace Prize, yet it is clear that the Chinese government is struggling with what it can only understand as a challenge by foreign powers to its legitimacy, according to Jensen.

“The Chinese government, unfortunately, reveals an intransigence that places national honor and achievement beyond an implicit understanding that its own citizens already possess,” says Jensen.

Note to Media: Professor Jensen’s comments may be used in whole or in part; he is available for interviews and can be reached at 574-631-7699 or jensen.21@nd.edu