Friday, October 8, 2010

Nobel reflects nascent democratic rise in China


By The associated Press | THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: October 09, 2010


Few nations today stand as more of a challenge to the democratic model of governance than China, where an 89-year-old Communist Party has managed to quash political movements while creating a roaring, quasi-market economy and enforcing a veneer of social stability.

With the United States’ economy flagging and its global influence in decline, some Chinese leaders now appear confident in asserting that freedom of speech, multiparty elections and constitutional rights — what some human-rights advocates call universal values — are indigenous to the West, and that is where they should stay.

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, 54, was a sharp rejoinder to that philosophy. Of course, it was a Norwegian panel that gave him the prize, providing Chinese officials and their supporters with ample ammunition to denounce the move as another attempt by the West to impose its values on China.

But anticipating the criticism, the judges underscored the support in China for the imprisoned Liu’s work and his plight, which they said proved that the Chinese were as hungry as anyone for the political freedoms enjoyed in countries like the United States, India and Indonesia.

“The campaign to establish universal human rights also in China is being waged by many Chinese, both in China itself and abroad,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. “Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China.”

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who won the prize in 1989, highlighted the grass-roots Chinese push for political reform in a statement praising Liu, saying that, “Future generations of Chinese will be able to enjoy the fruits of the efforts that the current Chinese citizens are making towards responsible governance.” Yet the Dalai Lama stands as proof that the struggle for rights in China is a difficult one, and that winning the Nobel is no guarantee of achieving even minimal success.

Nevertheless, the number of signatures on Charter 08, the document that Liu co-drafted that calls for gradually increasing constitutional rights, shows that at the very least, there is an appetite in this country to openly discuss the kind of values that hard-line Communist Party leaders dismiss as a new brand of Western imperialism.

The 300 initial signatures on the document snowballed to 10,000 as it spread on the Internet, even as the government tried its best to stamp it out. Certainly many of those who signed it were intellectuals, not exactly representative of most Chinese, but China has a rich history of political reform led by its elites. Chinese lawyers, journalists, scholars, artists, policy advisers — many among them will be heartened by the Nobel Committee’s decision.

“Today, many people are making efforts,” said Wan Yanhai, the most prominent advocate for AIDS victims in China and one of the initial signers of Charter 08; he left China temporarily for the United States in May because of what he called police harassment. “They’re hidden, but they’re there,” he said. “People are organizing different resistance movements, sometimes in a peaceful way, sometimes in a violent manner.”

Cui Weiping, a social critic who teaches at the Beijing Film Academy, said the rights struggle was moving from a local stage to a global one.

“Like everything that happens in China today, the democracy movement here exists in a global context,” she said. “So this will be a lesson to China: It can’t bottle up the democracy movement forever.”


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