What’s happened since Liu Xiaobo’s win?

Less than a week has passed since Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” The fallout since then has been heated, and few China-related tweets go by without a mention of Liu or what his prize will mean for the prospect of political reform in China. Tiananmen veteran Wu’er Kaixi has argued that Liu’s win will give the West a much-needed chance to engage better with China and place pressure on it to improve its human rights record, while Kerry Brown has drawn parallels between Beijing’s knee-jerk response and China’s internal weakness.

The points below are a summary of the events that followed news of Liu’s win.

  • Elated reactions were rife on Twitter, as ChinaGeeks covered in the minutes after Liu was announced as the winner. Pro-democracy demonstrations led by human rights activists also quickly ensued in Hong Kong.
  • Chinese media censors blacked out broadcasts of the news. This was followed by the Foreign Ministry slamming the prize, calling it a “blasphemy” and an insult to the people of China.
  • Later that evening (8th October), Liu Xia travelled in police custody to the Liaoning prison her husband is serving his 11-year sentence in. Over the weekend, reports surfaced that she had “gone missing”, after her lawyer and concerned friends revealed they could not contact her. Eventually, she tweeted that she had met her husband, who, having cried upon being told of his win, dedicated the prize to the “dead spirits of Tiananmen.” She also added that his prison conditions had improved since the Nobel, with staff now giving him better food.
  • Also during the weekend, up to 30 Chinese intellectuals were detained, warned or placed under house arrest in an attempt to contain celebrations of Liu’s win. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts reports that many were connected to a Stockholm-based freedom of expression group, of which Liu was also a member. Around 20 were celebrating in Beijing when police broke up the party.
  • On Monday it was revealed that Liu Xia had been placed under house arrest, and remains skeptical of whether she will be able to leave China to collect her husband’s award. Her phone has been cut and she is forbidden from leaving her apartment in Beijing. Journalists have tried to secure interviews with her, but to no avail: Al Jazeera’s Melissa K. Chan posted this clip of her own attempt today.
  • China also kept to its word when it told Norway that awarding Liu the prize could damage relations between Oslo and Beijing by promptly cancelling a meeting with a Norwegian fisheries minister. It also cut a Norwegian musical due to be performed next month in Beijing.
  • Finally, China Media Project translated an open letter penned by CCP veterans that called for increased freedom of speech, an abolition of censorship, and for there to be “no more taboos concerning our Party’s history”. However, confusion has sparked over whether the letter was indeed sparked by Liu’s win: at the bottom, it is dated 1st October 2010, seven days before the Nobel Committee awarded Liu the prize.



Gao Zhisheng surfaces

Gao Zhisheng, photo from Human Rights Watch

It was reported yesterday that prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has surfaced in Wutai Mountain, the site of a well-known Buddhist monastery in Shanxi province, after having been missing for over a year. Speaking to Western journalists over the phone, Gao said:

I’m fine now, but I’m not in a position to be interviewed (…) I’ve been sentenced but released.

Over the past year, Gao’s situation has been shrouded in mystery. In February, he was declared ‘missing’ one year after he was seized by authorities.

Gao has long been a thorn in the government’s side by defending Falun Gong practitioners and Christian groups. His law license was revoked in 2005, and he later confessed to charges of sedition after what he said was over a month of torture in 2006. Following this, he and his family lived under surveillance, which his wife and children evaded in January 2009 by fleeing China and being granted asylum by the US.

Earlier this month, having been pressed on the topic by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yang Jiechi denied that Gao had ever been tortured, but claimed he had been sentenced to prison for subversion. BBC News also spoke with Gao’s brother, Gao Zhiyi, who revealed he had spoken on the phone with his sibling. He said his brother had “sounded alright, but didn’t say where he was calling from.”

Gao told journalists on Sunday, “right now I just need to calm down and lead a quiet life.” He then ended the conversation by referring to his wife and children: “they are like kites that have had their strings cut, and now they are floating far off into the sky.”

Ousted editors, mummy astronauts and no more Namibia (*updated*)

  • While breath was held over the 1st March’s joint editorial calling for reform of China’s hukou (household registration system), today one of its authors was ousted. The Economic Observer’s deputy editor in chief, Zhang Hong, was removed from his position and the paper’s top editors received stern warnings, the WSJ reported. *update, 10.03.10 – Zhang has also released this letter (kindly translated by the WSJ) explaining the context and reasoning behind the editorial.*
  • In China and want to do some online research about Namibia? Mei you result. According to The Namibian, the southern African country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is keen to question President Hu Jintao’s son over a corruption case involving Nutech (of which Hu Haifeng was once chief), allowing the GFW to rear its filtering head when the topic is searched on the PRC’s web.
  • Chinese officials are so concerned that going into space could damage the fertility of the country’s first female astronauts, that only mothers are being picked for training. According to an expert at an air force hospital in China, women are better suited to the role of astronaut than men: they are “more mentally stable, better able to bear loneliness and had better communication skills”, she told The Guardian.
  • TIME‘s Austin Ramzy has provided some answers to why China is putting the brakes on its military spending, as announced during the NPC session. In addition to cutting costs in order to control inflation and delve out more to rural and social sectors, Chinese officials are now more cautious about intimidating foreign observers with the PLA’s stature, Ramzy says.
  • Shanghai Scrap author Adam Minter was not impressed with the US’ pavilion for the upcoming Expo, and not just because of a “mediocre, uninspiring” design. In his piece for Foreign Policy, he gives a detailed overview of the nepotism and fundraising fiascos embroiled in the build-up to May’s event.
  • The severe cut of communication networks in Xinjiang following 2009’s riots may be easing, as recent reports have claimed that the region’s return to the forgotten areas of the WWW is near. Josh from Far West China, however, offers 5 reasons why we should take these claims with a pinch of the proverbial.

Catching up

It’s been a minute, or a month. This post is my attempt to wade through the news I’ve missed (translation: shamefully avoided due to running off to the UK for a week). So, what’s been happening, and where are the stories? The following are a small selection.

  • A lot of talk today has been hovering around ‘Man of the Year’ Bo Xilai, the Chongqing Party chief and potential contender for the Politburo’s Standing Committee during the 2012 leadership transition. Discussions of the future generation of China’s leaders have been taking place behind the scenes at the current annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC). As the Washington Post reported, the charismatic Bo has become the poster boy for a group of emerging Chinese leaders known as ‘princelings’, or descendants of high-ranking party officials. They also claim China’s future lies with its nascent middle class, which would bring about some…interesting results if Bo does rise to power.
  • In addition to his online talks with China’s netizens (which, for blogger Han Song, left many questions unanswered) , Premier Wen preached for two hours in the Great Hall of the People during the NPC’s session. Major themes were tackling corruption and closing the country’s pressing poverty gap. Wen pledged increased social and rural spending, yet his cautious uncertainty over the global economic landscape means this year’s overall spending increase sits at 11.4% (less than half of last year’s 24% rise). Tania Branigan has the details covered here.
  • Earlier this month, thirteen Chinese newspapers surprisingly joined forces in an appeal for social reforms. They attacked the hukou (household registration system), which limits the access of rural migrant workers to basic services in China’s metropolises. The issue was also high on the agenda of the NPC session, with Wen promising change.
  • Also resulting from the session were suggestions for new regulations on China’s Internet cafes. Don Weinland from Global Voices reported that the “People’s Representative Gao Wanneng called for a ‘zero-hour cutoff’ for internet cafes due to ‘long-term Internet addiction’ in the Chinese youth.” Drastic? Yes, according to the netizens featured in Weinland’s piece.
  • The New York Times published a running debate on China’s exodus of graduates facing unemployment. In the past decade, the portion of graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold, but their expectations are outweighing actual careers. And while we’re on the topic of education, the China Law and Policy blog makes no effort to disguise the PRC’s academic misconduct, and the legal system that harbours it.
  • Finally, since International Women’s Day has been upon us, Shanghaiist featured a video report from Al-Jazeera about Wu Qin, a teacher at Beijing’s Rural Women’s Training School who aims to empower such women in China’s male-dominated society. God love her.

And so, for those of you not in GMT + 8 (or similar time zone), Happy International Women’s Day!