By **Wuer Kaixi**
Six years ago, on the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, I said of Tiananmen mother Ding Zilin: “She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize; and in a braver, more honest world she would get it.”
Ding lost her seventeen-year-old son on the night of June 3, 1989, during the bloody clampdown that ended the protests in Tiananmen Square for a more open China. Since then, despite repeated police harassment, she has tirelessly worked to persuade other families to stand up and count the ones they lost on that night.
For too long, appeasement has been the name of the game when it comes to dealing with China—as if China was some kind of special case in which the normal rules of civility do not apply.
She wasn’t awarded the prize because the world has not been brave and honest enough with China in the twenty-one years since those protests led to so many deaths and drove so many of us into exile. We did have the support of the world when we took to the streets of Beijing, and in the aftermath of the bloodshed that followed. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Trade took the driver’s seat. Surely, many reasoned, economic prosperity would lead to political reform. That didn’t happen. And in one of countless cases in which it did not happen, two years ago Liu Xiaobo, an unremitting campaigner for political reform, was arrested in 2008 and subsequently given an eleven-year jail sentence.
Liu, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University, where I was a student, was my advisor during the Tiananmen protests. I met with him every day and listened to his advice from almost the moment he rushed back from the United States to be with us. I’m grateful that the bravery and intelligence of my mentor has finally been recognized.
For too long, appeasement has been the name of the game when it comes to dealing with China—as if China was some kind of special case in which the normal rules of civility do not apply. The Norwegians changed that on Friday, October 8th, when they finally recognized the struggles and sacrifices of Chinese on their native soil and in exile. They changed it by saluting Liu with the prize that has eluded everyone engaged in the struggle for a less repressive China.
We have had to wait too long, but I know it is welcomed by all Chinese in exile or imprisoned for their beliefs and who have been waiting for the world to finally put aside economic interests and call the Chinese government’s bluff. Let us not forget that this Nobel Peace Prize announcement comes in the wake of numerous announcements by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that China needs to embrace political reform.
We need to question the sincerity of these announcements, and we need to apply pressure to ensure that they are more than hollow words. Both of these things have now happened decisively. Speaking to the United Nations last month—two years after Liu was jailed, and echoing another jailed (and later exiled) campaigner for political reform in the late nineteen seventies, Wei Jingsheng, who also deserved a Nobel Peace Prize, said that political reform is a necessity for China to ensure continuous economic reform.
Wen argued his point even more clearly in an interview he gave Fareed Zakaria on CNN: “I believe I and all the Chinese people have such a conviction that China will make continuous progress, and the people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible.”
We have had to wait too long, but I know it is welcomed by all Chinese who have been waiting for the world to finally put aside economic interests and call the Chinese government’s bluff.
In fact, “irresistible” was a bad translation. The Chinese word Wen actually used is best translated as “insuppressible”. Unfortunately, the reality is that the government he represents has been suppressing so-called irresistible “democracy and freedom” since it came to power in 1949—and for the entire twenty-one years since the Tiananmen protests it has not allowed me to come home and visit my aging parents.
I am glad that the Nobel Peace Committee has chosen to call Wen on these statements and on what perhaps is the boldest thing he has said so far, also to CNN: “I believe freedom of speech is indispensable, for any country, a country in the course of development and a country that has become strong. Freedom of speech has been incorporated into the Chinese constitution.”
What would Liu, two years into his eleven-year sentence, make of that? What are any of us languishing in prisons or unable to go home supposed to make of it?
A lot of brave people in China have deserved the Nobel Peace Prize and not received it—including all my fellow students who died on June 4, 1989. Ding Zilin deserves it, Wei Jingsheng deserves it, AIDS activist Hu Jia deserves it, rights activist Ai Weiwei deserves it. In my mind—and I don’t think I’m alone in this—the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s recognition of Liu Xiaobo’s bravery and self-sacrifice belongs also to every brave Chinese who has stood up to injustice and suppression of basic rights in the country I call home.
Copyright 2010 Wuer Kaixi
Wuer Kaixi was a major student organizer in the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. He is most known for being filmed censuring Chinese Premier Li Peng in his hospital gown, having been hospitalized from the effects of a hunger strike he coordinated. On November 12th, he will represent Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima, Japan.