The news from Beijing that so many were anxiously awaiting finally came earlier this week — the nominees for this year’s Confucius Peace Prize. However, even for an award that is just three years old and of such prominence that none of the previous winners has bothered to collect it, there was a dispiriting sameness to the list of nominees.
In no particular order, the nominees are: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; his predecessor Kofi Annan; Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Wang Dingguo (王定國), whom the selection committee called a Chinese social activist, but is better known as the only surviving woman to have taken part in the Long March; Peking University professor Tang Yijie (湯一介), an expert on Confucinism and Taoism; 82-year-old Chinese rice researcher Yuan Longping (袁龍萍) and 22-year-old Gyaltsen Norbu, the 11th Panchen Lama (the one appointed by Beijing, not the real one).
The Taipei Times correctly picked then-Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin as the winner of last year’s prize, though not for the same reason the award committee did. The newspaper selected him as the least likely to contribute to world peace and therefore the most likely to win, based upon the selection of Taiwan’s former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) as the winner of the inaugural award for his role in developing cross-strait relations. It turns out Putin won for “enhancing his country’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya.”
However, as in previous years, there appears to be confusion surrounding the prize and its selection process. Last year, it was the China Native Art Association’s Culture Protection Bureau that said it was organizing the prize, while this year the China International Peace Research Center is claiming the honor. The first year, Tan Changliu (譚長流) claimed to be “Confucius Peace Prize jury chairman.” Now, Time magazine and other sources say it is none other than the Peking professor and ultra-nationalist Kong Qingdong (孔慶東) who claims to be the brain behind the prize. Kong’s previous claim to fame is that he is a 73rd-generation descendant of Confucius. This spring he labeled Hong Kong residents “dogs” and “thieves” after a video of Chinese tourists eating on a metro train and being scolded for doing so.
Whoever is behind the award, the real reason for its existence is not to promote world peace from an “Eastern” perspective, it is to hog some of Norway’s Nobel Peace Prize limelight. So, again, the Confucius prize will be announced a day ahead, on Dec. 9.
What its organizers fail to appreciate is that while they may have been initially angered when the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to jailed Chinese dissident writer Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), each mention of the Confucius prize simply brings up Liu’s name. Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring an appeal for political reform, is getting more ink in prison than he did outside.
Besides, Asia already has its own “Nobels” in the Ramon Magsaysay Awards, given out to scientists, environmentalists, social workers, doctors, artists — and this year, Taiwan’s own vegetable seller-cum-philantropist Chen Shu-chu (陳樹菊) — who in their own fields and their own ways have worked to make the world a better place. Fourteen Chinese have won a Magsaysay prize since 1994, but that is apparently not good enough for the Confucius folks, or the Chinese government, which is known to be desperate to have a “real” Chinese Nobel laureate as opposed to an “overseas Chinese” or a jailed dissident.