By Wang Chaohua
1. The Nobel Peace Prize
What does a Nobel Peace Prize stand for politically? We probably can’t take the written words of Alfred Nobel himself and of the awarding committee at face value. In the past century, the prize has stirred up numerous controversies. For example, a war-mongering, coup-conspiring politician like Henry Kissinger was chosen to be honored, leaving the rest of the world with jaws dropped and the winner himself reluctant to revisit the moment in public. After all, the prize was decided and awarded by a committee of five retired politicians. In addition, no matter how politically balanced each of the actual committee members might be, there could hardly be universal consensus in today’s world as to which candidate is more worthy than the others, and on what grounds. Controversy is almost an integral part of the peace prize.
Yet, bolstered by its sister prizes in other fields — fields of natural sciences in particular — as well as following historical trends towards social justice, democracy, and multi-ethnic, multi-cultural co-existence for “peace,” the Nobel Peace Prize has indeed built up a certain international reputation for itself by awarding the prize, for example, to Martin Luther King, Jr. of the U.S. in 1964, the International Labor Organization in 1969, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar in 1991, Rigoberta Menchú Tum of Guatemala in 1992, and Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he set up in Bangladesh in 2006. Not surprisingly, the prize’s influence has grown, with matching expectations around the globe. Some activists overlooked by mainstream Western media have tried to draw attention to their causes by lobbying for the prize for one of their own. Likewise, both George W. Bush and Tony Blair were nominated right after they launched the second Iraqi War in 2003; if either had won, it could have indicated an international consensus on the war’s legitimacy. The prize’s symbolic meaning matters to those who oppose the committee’s decision no less than to those who congratulate the chosen laureate(s).
This year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident I know personally from the heady days of the Tiananmen protest of spring 1989. When the news of his winning the prize came through on October 8, it was an exciting and moving moment for me. It is true that we have not seen each other for more than twenty years, though we did maintain some contact before he was arrested in late 2008. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison a year later.