This morning I was chatting with a former student of mine, and she asked if I knew about who won the Nobel Prize this year. Given who was asking, my first guess was a Chinese person. During the six years I lived in China, one of the sorest spots among educated Chinese is that they have not been the winners of a Nobel Prize. In my mind, Chinese people believe that winning the Nobel Prize would be a sign that China was truly taking an leading role on the world stage. Just as hosting the Olympics was a huge deal to the Chinese people so to was winning a Nobel Prize.
However, this prize was awarded to a person who is in jail. His name is Liu Xiaobo. From what I understand he was a student who did take part in the Tiananmen Square protests and he recently wrote something called Charter 8 which calls for greater freedoms for the Chinese people (including open elections, judiciary reforms, and human rights guarantees).
In classes, we have been talking about multiple layers of meanings and struggles countries go through to decide whose story gets told. In the case of Japan, there is still a struggle over what is taught about war atrocities during the Asia Pacific War and namely the Nanjing Massacre, comfort women, and other incidents. In Taiwan, there was debate over curriculum that emphasizes nationalist or nativist sentiments. There is a constant struggle in politics, on a legal front, and in the court of public opinion as to what becomes the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Now with the spreading of globalization, countries are no longer in isolation. Injustice that is carried out within the borders of one country may be challenged by the international community in ways that could not have been imagined just decades ago.
I told my colleague today about the Chinese Nobel Prize winner, and it was the first she had heard of it. Her reaction was one of great surprise and I could see the sense of pride she felt and then I told her he was in jail and the reasons for this and there was also some shock. My husband's sister also did not hear of this news. It seems the Great Firewall of China has been at great work to keep this under wraps. Just now, she reported that as she was watching CNN and they were about to mention something about Liu Xiaobo, the CNN signal was suddenly unclear.
As China was preparing for the torch relay, Tibetan protests abounded. The moment of glory was somewhat tainted by others. Now standing in what also should be a moment of glory for China, it too comes tainted but from within. During the Olympics, China wanted to put her best foot forward and give the world a wonderful impression of her developing greatness. However, I hope the world is watching China now. I am truly curious how she will respond to this prestigious, but somewhat unwelcome award. The world should watch at the same time, because it is right now that China can make a decision to shine, however I feel it is unlikely to happen.