Sending a Message Straight to the People of China

Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday in Norway.

Beijing today called the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident “blasphemy.” “Liu Xiaobo is a convicted criminal sentenced to jail by Chinese justice authorities for violation of Chinese law,” said Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. “His acts are in complete contradiction to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Mr. Liu is serving an 11-year sentence, handed down on Christmas Day 2008, for subverting state power. He was detained for, among other things, his sponsorship of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for a “free, democratic and constitutional nation.”

Chinese media was silent about the award to the country’s most prominent dissident. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, led with a story about the stock market. There was nothing about the prize on government websites or on CCTV, the state broadcaster. Beijing blocked transmission of the BBC and other foreign broadcast media when the prize was announced. Chinese cell phone carriers deleted text messages carrying news of the award.

The central government’s efforts were futile, however. Chinese chatrooms were abuzz with the news and filled with congratulations for the imprisoned Liu. High school children and college students from China were sending out messages on Liu to the Nobel website. QQ, the popular Chinese instant messaging system, carried news of Beijing’s reaction to the prize. Because of the award, tens of millions of Chinese will, for the first time, learn Liu Xiaobo’s name—and what he is trying to accomplish.

China’s autocrats have a lot to be worried about. Nobel prizes have encouraged dissidents and shaken hardline governments. The 1984 award of the Peace Prize to Desmond Tutu, for instance, encouraged foreign countries to begin pulling out investments from South Africa. Nelson Mandela won the award in 1993, the year before his election as president.

Today’s announcement from Oslo signals to the Chinese people that the rest of the world stands behind their aspirations for a freer society. “Liu’s committed advocacy on behalf of democracy in China is, above all, intended for the benefit of the Chinese people,” Tutu and others stated in an open letter in January. The changes in Chinese society at this moment are momentous, even though we may not always see the transformation that is occurring. Mr. Liu’s award is bound to hasten the liberalization in China that must occur—for the benefit of everyone.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang (

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