Reflections on the Cultural Background to China's Reaction to the Nobel Prize Award

  • Gunnar Haaland Professor Emeritus at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen
Keywords: 2010 Nobel Prize award, civil society in China, capitalization of power, China’s dual economy


This paper deals with some complex and controversial issues that arose in connection with the 2010 Nobel Prize Peace award to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiao Bo. These issues involve different levels. On one level it is important not to confuse the Nobel committee’s independence of outside interference from political and other organized agencies, with the question of whether the Nobel Prize committee’s decisions can be ideological or politically unbiased in its decisions. Part of the strong Chinese reaction to the award is related to this issue. Another level deals with the Committee’s widening of the criteria to be taken into account in the selection of candidates from the original criterion focused on direct contribution to reduction of armed conflicts, to the wider issues of indirect contributions like alleviation of poverty, ecological sustainability and most crucial the issue of human rights. The last issue is particularly critical since different states have different perspectives of what constitute human rights, and what rights should be given priority on different levels of the country’s development. The main point of the article is to look at historical events and socio-cultural conditions that shape the Chine Government’s (and many citizens’) reaction to the 2010 award. This is placed in the context of the widening income differences emerging in the modern political economy of China and how these may affect the growth of civil society. The critical question is: will the reward contribute to promotion of civil society or will it lead to increased crackdown on dissident voices.


Dhaulagiri Journal of Sociology and Anthropology Vol. 5, 2011: 81-100


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Author Biography

Gunnar Haaland, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen
Haaland, Gunnar is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen. Theoretically his research foci include the interplay between processes in nature and processes in society, the cultural content of ethnic identities in their politico-economic contexts, and application of anthropological perspectives to the interpretation of prehistoric remains. Empirically most of his work has been done in Sudan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand and China. He has been Honorary Professor at the following universities: College of Ecology and Environment Science, Inner Mongolian Agricultural University, China; Department of Sociology, Anhui University, China; Yunnan Nationalities University, China. In addition to his permanent position at University of Bergen he has held short-term teaching assignments at University of Khartoum, Sudan; Tribhuvan University, Nepal; Fudan University, and Yunnan University of Nationalities, China. He has worked as consultant to a variety of international agencies (e.g. FAO, ILO, IFAD, World Bank, ILCA) in 12 African countries and 6 Asian countries. His most well-known publications are 'Economic Determinants in Ethnic Processes'. in Barth, F.: Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Norwegian University Press Oslo 1969; 'Nomadization as an Economic Career among Sedentaries in the Sudan Savanna Belt' in Cunnison, I and James, W.: Essays in Sudan Ethnography. Festschrift to Evans Pritchard, C Hurst & Company. London 1972; 'Cultural Content and Ethnic Identity'. in Grønhaug, Haaland and Henriksen: The Ecology of Choice and Symbol. Essays in the Honour of Fredrik Barth, Alma Mater. Bergen, 1991; 2008 ‘Explaining causes in evolving contexts: From Nepali hill Farmers to Business Managers in Thailand’ in Against the Grain. The Vayda Tradition in Human Ecology and Ecological Anthropology. AltaMira Press 2008 ISBN 978-0-7591-1172-1. s. 43-66. Haaland was awarded the King's Medal of Merit in Gold (Norway) on 17 December, 2007.
How to Cite
Haaland, G. (2012). Reflections on the Cultural Background to China’s Reaction to the Nobel Prize Award. Dhaulagiri Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, 5, 81-100.