The much-discussed search for the first Chinese Nobel laureate has reached its conclusion. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, literary critic and longstanding Chinese political activist Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), would undoubtedly appreciate the irony of this award — upon finally reaching this long-awaited goal, the topic of the Nobel Prize has suddenly disappeared from the Chinese media and Internet.
Despite reporting the winners of each Nobel Prize this week, the Chinese media has been suspiciously silent on the topic of the Nobel Peace Prize since it was announced yesterday. Here in Guangzhou, where we have access to nearby Hong Kong cable television, more than 20 minutes of a 30-minute news broadcast were blocked last night by “public service announcements.” In a quite appropriate metaphor for this politically sensitive moment, viewers were reminded of the importance of washing their hands! Even the unabashedly Beijing-friendly Phoenix Television, which made no mention of the award, had its news ticker clumsily blocked by a massive yellow strip at the bottom of the screen.
As of 11pm Beijing time on Friday, the Web site of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece People’s Daily continued to carry a story -asserting that the Internet was likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize and that the results would be announced “later today.” Elsewhere, on the site’s BBS, a post claimed that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) was an ideal pick for the Nobel Peace Prize for his vision of harmony and his promotion of peace in Asia and the world.
It is clear that the Central Propaganda (“Publicity”) Department, reliably adept at twisting current events to confirm state-nationalist narratives, has been thrown into a state of shock by the developments of the past 48 hours. One can only imagine the degree of simultaneous urgency and perplexity in meeting rooms last night, as propagandists perplexedly pondered this weekend surprise into the wee hours of the morning. The current approach, surprising only in its predictability, seems to consist of blocking information about the prize within China, while criticizing this so-called “blasphemy” internationally.
Yet no matter how the party-state may try, in the age of the Internet, which Liu skillfully used to share his otherwise inaccessible ideas, this information cannot be blocked forever — and this is when this award will have its greatest implications for China and the world. Over the past 48 hours, those who already knew about Liu and his efforts have seen a glimmer of hope; meanwhile, residents who, like the majority of Chinese citizens, have never heard of Liu, seem to be left in puzzlement — who is this first Nobel laureate from China whom we do not even know? Why does the state refuse to even mention this award?
It is questions such as these that might begin to change the future of China for the better. Since the tragedy of Tiananmen in 1989, the party-state has relied upon the myth that it is the sole guarantor of the “stability and development” of China and that it is thus the sole protector of “the people” against a predatory outside world composed of “anti-China forces” who repeatedly “hurt the Chinese people’s feelings.” This myth has only been able to be maintained through a combination of the crude measures by which information about this year’s Nobel Peace Prize have been blocked and the cruel measures disguised as “law” through which Liu is currently imprisoned. Their end result has been the prompt erasure of any questioning of the mythical bond between the CCP, the state and the people.
Thus, when the party-state is finally compelled to loosen its media blockade and acknowledge this award domestically, it will undoubtedly summon these “anti-China forces,” “hurt feelings” and “legal procedures” upon which it has long relied. Carefully edited quotes from Liu’s work, otherwise inaccessible, will be selected to demonstrate the first Chinese Nobel laureate’s purportedly “anti-China” character. Yet even amongst those who did not know of Liu before Friday, there is implicit recognition that Liu’s story is far more complex than that — the international recognition of Liu, combined with the stark contrast of domestic silence, does not reveal a gap between China and the outside world so much as a gap between state narratives and reality.
This is why the CCP’s media juggernaut, usually obsessed with the Nobel Prize, came to a sudden halt yesterday evening. One can only hope that the Chinese people will use the tools available to them, tools which Liu has used over the past decade to spread his message, to overcome the state-induced puzzlement of the past 48 hours, and decide for themselves who is truly “anti-China.”
Kevin Carrico is a visiting scholar at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China.
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