The Chinese paradox

A Chinese man named Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week, but few people in China know about it. In fact, many don’t even know he exists. Liu Xiaobo has been a nonviolent democracy advocate in China for the past 20 years.  He has been fighting for a peaceful transition to democracy. Xiaobo is currently serving his second year of an 11-year jail sentence as a result of a manifesto he wrote calling for political reform.  His wife, Liu Xia, informed him of his award while he was in jail.   Now she’s under house arrest. No phones, no computer — nothing. There are guards around the clock watching her premises.   This is what is happening to people all around China. Text the words “Nobel Peace Prize” or “Liu Xiaobo” and you will lose your texting privileges. Not only has the Chinese government censored news of Xiaobo on telephones, televisions and computers, they are also threatening sanctions against Norway, the host country of the Nobel committee who awarded Liu the prize. Situations like these remind us that China is a communist state.   China is the world’s manufacturing superstar. So much of our stuff is made in China that the phrase “made in China” should be printed on the back of the American flag. The China of today presents an extreme paradox between the capitalist manufacturing super-machine that makes all of our stuff and the anti-free speech, communist government. But the tide is changing. According to the Los Angeles Times, more retired Communist Party leaders are calling for reform, complaining that “Not only the average citizen, but even the most senior leaders of the Communist Party have no freedom of speech.” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on CNN last week, “I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country …  I often say that we should not only let people have freedom of speech; we, more important, must create conditions to let them criticize the work of the government.”     China is currently in a tense economic battle with Japan and the U.S. over currency devaluation and trade relations. This could be their 1989, as both economic relations and political events are drawing international criticism.   We need to look past the factories, the skyscrapers and all the technology that have characterized 21st century China and understand their true identity. Perhaps the timing is perfect. Perhaps, as the Chinese government claims, the award was “a political tool meant to irritate [the government].” China has come to a fork in the road. Now is the time to see what happens — stay tuned.