On Point: Liu Xiaobo and the War for the Terms of Modernity

by Austin Bay
October 12, 2010

Dissident Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize has scared China'scommunist elites. The Beijing government has responded viciously by vilifyingLiu and the prize selection committee. China's cyber-sheriffs have tried tokeep news of Liu's award off the Internet. Its secret police shadow Liu's wife.The People's Republic's foreign ministry has even snubbed Norwegian diplomatsengaged in discussions about the fishing industry.

Beijing's full-throttle propaganda, political and policeoverreaction speaks volumes about the party elites' insecurity seeded by theirfailure to address China's array of internal challenges. The Communist Party'sapparatchiks, state billionaires and military princes know the war for theterms of 21st century modernity rages within their country, and it is shakingthe foundation of their sophisticated and slippery tyranny.

But first some background. Chinese dissident Liu Xiaoboearned his Peace Prize. Since 1989 and the Tiananmen Square massacre, Liu hasinsistently demonstrated the physical and moral courage promoting genuinechange demands. 2009's dubious prizewinner, U.S. President Barack Obama,rhetorically encouraged hope. When Liu says "no" to China's singleparty political system, he embodies hope and inspires by visceral example.

Liu long ago joined the distinguished line of brave men andwomen trapped in police states who choose, in the name of liberty, to confronttheir nations' authoritarian ideologies and instruments of terror. Many ofthese heroes die unheralded in a jail or an alley or a ditch. The tyrants erasetheir memory and hide their sacrifice.

A fortunate few, like Liu, gain international notoriety.Fame provides a degree of protection for the dissidents, and a Nobel PeacePrize adds political armor. The peace prize certainly empowered and protectedLech Walesa when he and his Solidarity union struggled against Poland'scommunist government and its masters in Moscow.

A Peace Prize, however, does not guarantee freedom of travelor even release from police detention. The 1935 prizewinner, German pacifistand fervent anti-Nazi Carl von Ossietzky, died of tuberculosis in 1938 -- hishospital bed monitored by the Gestapo. Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991prizewinner, remains under arrest.

China is Myanmar's staunchest ally. A savage, impoverisheddictatorship that brooks no dissent runs Myanmar. Cash-rich China is run by asilky smooth party dictatorship that stifles dissent.

The difference between savage poverty and silky wealth issignificant, but the common point remains dictatorship. The Chinese governmentcontinues to portray Liu as a criminal and his prize as illicit interference inChina's internal affairs. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu made that clearduring a ministry press conference: "Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to acriminal serving a prison sentence," Ma said, "shows a lack ofrespect for China's judicial system."

Ma's propaganda line is supposed to stoke bothneo-nationalist and paleo-imperial Chinese indignation. Peel its stinking onionback a layer, and Ma is damning the prize committee for handing China a"loss of face." Those scoundrels in Oslo failed to give China'scommunist emperors appropriate political and cultural deference. As a result,China's vice minister of agriculture canceled his meeting with Norway'sfisheries minister. Take that, insouciant Scandinavians.

Touting Chinese courts as venues of justice is a reach.Economic corruption is the chief complaint among China's hundreds of millionsof discontented citizens, but Beijing knows police and judicial corruption alsorile the populace.

The Chinese government's heavy-handed reaction to Liu'sprize provides an insight into China's great 21st century internal struggle.China's economic success is impressive, but it teeters on a very iffy politicaldeal. China's privileged communist elites seek the benefits of economicliberalization (including free trade) without concomitant political liberalization.The blood of 2000 Chinese citizens slain at Tiananmen Square demonstrated thelengths the communists will go to enforce this bargain.

China's continued economic growth, however, requires moderntechnology and communications. The Internet is an essential economic tool, butone that frustrates an authoritarian government's ability to deny or controlinformation. Over time, an informed population becomes an opinionatedpopulation, and dissident opinions endanger the communists' harsh bargain.

Ultimately, the communist government confronts the humanspirit's will to freedom, with Liu as its courageous personification. No wonderthe government is afraid. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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