Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize has given rise to a lot of discussion. The Global Times, for one, has been running vicious op-eds slamming Liu and the Nobel Peace Prize daily since the award was announced. Some of the discussion happening outside official media, in contrast, has been interesting and productive, but there are two specific arguments against Liu Xiaobo that I’d like to address here.
Dumb Argument #1
The first appears as oft-cited evidence that Liu Xiaobo is a traitor to China. Commenters generally post this quotation from an interview Liu Xiaobo gave:
“(It would take) 300 years of colonialism. In 100 years of colonialism, Hong Kong has changed to what we see today. With China being so big, of course it would take 300 years of colonialism for it to be able to transform into how Hong Kong is today. I have my doubts as to whether 300 years would be enough.”
Indeed, the quote is pretty shocking. But what these commenters generally fail to mention is that (1) the quotation is from 1988 and that (2) Liu has since suggested that at the time (he was giving an interview to a Hong Kong publication) he was just talking and hadn’t fully thought his response though.
One could argue all day about whether Liu actually meant this, whether he still believes it, and whether that makes him a traitor, but the fact is that he hasn’t said anything like that since 1988, which is why his detractors go back so far to dig something up against him. As James Fallows puts it:
“It’s in no way representative of Liu’s general position, which is that of a Chinese nationalist working to bring universal values to his own country.”
Liu is a professional writer with a large body of work; if he were truly a traitor who wanted China to be subjugated to foreign powers, presumably it would be easy to find evidence of that in his writing, but I have yet to see a single argument against Liu online or in the Chinese media that quoted even a single line from anything he has written.
Dumb Argument #2
The second argument suggests that Liu deserved his eleven year sentence and/or is a traitor to China for accepting money from foreign organizations, with a side helping of “Americans are hypocrites because that’s illegal in America, too.” Here I am quoting commenter Charles Liu on this post:
Liu Xiaobo has received hundreds of thousands of US government funding via the NED in the past five years to conduct domestic political activity in China (including advocating abolition of China’s constitution.) Check NED’s China grants for Independent Chinese Pen Center and Minzhu Zhongguo magazine, which Liu heads.
If Liu were American he would be in violation of FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act). Ron Paul had once commented “What the NED does in foreign countries… would be rightly illegal in the United States”.
As you might expect, this is a clever mix of truth, lies, and intentionally misleading suggestions. In actuality, if Liu were in the US, he would be perfectly fine, assuming he did register and keep records of who gave him money, as is required by the FARA. Moreover, there’s no reason to think Liu would have been sentenced to a day of jail time even if he did refuse to register in the US. In fact, not a single person has been convicted in a criminal case under FARA since 1966.
Moreover, the whole thing is a false analogy, as Liu was convicted of “attempting to incite subversion of state power” based on the contents of Charter 08, not because he had accepted money from foreign governments and thus violated some law similar to FARA. Quoting from the official verdict read at the end of Liu’s trial, he was convicted because he “published inciting articles”, and because he “drafted and concocted Charter 08″ and then posted it on overseas websites.
Specifically, he was convicted of violating article 105 section two of the PRC criminal code, which reads:
“Whoever incites others by spreading rumors or slanders or any other means to subvert the State power or overthrow the socialist system shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights; and the ringleaders and the others who commit major crimes shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years. “
In fact, accepting money from foreign organizations can, in some cases, be illegal in China, as evidenced by Articles 106 and 107 of the Criminal Code:
Article 106: Whoever commits the crime as prescribed in Article 103, 104 or 105 of this Chapter in collusion with any organ, organization or individual outside the territory of China shall be given a heavier punishment according to the provisions stipulated in these Articles respectively.
Article 107: Where an organ, organization or individual inside or outside of the territory of China provides funds to any organization or individual within the territory of China to commit the crime as prescribed in Article 102, 103, 104 or 105, the person who is directly responsible for the crime shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights; if the circumstances are serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years.
But neither of these laws were even mentioned in Liu’s verdict. From the verdict: “The procuratorate found that Liu Xiaobo’s actions have violated the stipulations of Article 105 (2) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China…” No other article is mentioned.
So, in short, Liu’s crime and sentencing in China are in no way comparable to FARA and, in the words of those who convicted and sentenced him, he was not imprisoned for accepting money from foreign organizations like NED.
“Universal Values” and “Western Imperialism”
“Trying to impose western so-called ‘universal’ values on China” is a charge that has been leveled at Liu Xiaobo, the Norwegian Nobel committee, and a whole lot of other people. It is of only tangential relevance here, but we’ll quickly address it anyway. Since detractors rarely, if ever, cite specifics from Liu’s body of work, it’s difficult to know which “Western values” he is supposedly trying to force on China.
In terms of Charter 08, though, as a recent joke being passed around the Chinese internet points out, most if not all of the ideas in the charter are evident, and often more strongly worded, in speeches and writings of revered CCP leaders like Zhou Enlai:
Hu Jintao: Has Liu Xiaobo confessed yet?
Prosecutors: He’s confessed everything and we’ve corroborated his statements.
Hu Jintao: So [in Charter ‘08] where does he get the phrase “federated republic?”
Prosecutors: This comes from the report of the second congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The original wording was, “establish a free federated republic.” Only, the word “free” is not in the Charter.
Hu Jintao: Then… then, what about the military being made answerable to the national government and not to a political party?
Prosecutors: We’ve looked into it! This comes from The Selected Works of Zhou Enlai. The original wording was, “We must make the military answerable to the national government.” Only, the word “must” is not in the Charter.
Hu Jintao: Then… then … then, where does all that stuff praising Western style democracy come from?
Prosecutors: The Xinhua Daily ran an editorial that read, “America represents a democratic society.” Only, the Charter doesn’t say “America represents.”
Hu Jintao: Then… then… then, what about an end to one party rule?
Prosecutors: This is a slogan from great grandfather Mao when he opposed the Guomindang [the Nationalists]! The original wording of the slogan was, “Topple the one party dictatorship!” [When the Nationalists were vying for power with the Communists, Mao strongly advocated a multi-party government. Failure to create a multi-party state led to civil war.]
Hu Jintao: Then… then… then… then, what about freedom of association, freedom of speech, and a free press?
Prosecutors: These are all part of the Constitution!
Moreover, it’s worth noting that “human rights” is not in and of itself a Western concept. In fact, one of the principal drafters of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was P.C. Chang, a Chinese citizen who was a dedicated Confucian, a lover of traditional poetry, and a member of the anti-Japanese resistance during World War II. Chinese people in Hong Kong and Taiwan, among other places, have adopted so-called “Western” values like freedom of the press and democracy, yet they are still recognized as Chinese.
Yes, of course, some of these ideas have their origins in the West, but there’s plenty of precedent for a belief in fundamental freedoms and human rights in China’s native traditions, too (this will be the subject of a future post at some point). In any event, the idea that Liu’s advocating things like democracy and freedom of the press is somehow fundamentally “not Chinese” is ridiculous.
There are, certainly, arguments to be made in favor of not giving the prize to Liu Xiaobo. Others may have deserved the award more (I don’t personally think so, but I don’t know a lot about many of the other candidates, either). Arguments that Liu Xiaobo is a traitor to China or that he deserved his eleven year sentence, on the other hand, seem to be few and far between.
I am, as ever, open to other interpretations, but our discussions on this in the past have gone off the rails, so the rules here are going to be a bit stricter. If you’re going to make an argument in the comments (one way or the other) you need to support it with actual evidence, and you need to do it without attacking other commenters personally. NO EXCEPTIONS.