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

Gunnar Haaland


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


2010 Nobel Prize award; civil society in China; capitalization of power; China’s dual economy

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