Hu Jia wins Sakharov Prize for Freedom

A late-night quickie:

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia despite warnings from China that its relations with the 27-nation bloc would be seriously damaged if it did so.

In selecting Hu to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European lawmakers said they are “sending out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China.” Hu has advocated for the rights of Chinese citizens with HIV-AIDS and chronicled the arrest, detention and abuse of other activists.

After I posted a few weeks ago that I felt Hu was deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, I had an opportunity to discuss his career with friends of mine (Westerners involved in government) who are much more familiar with his activities than I. Since then, I’ve had rather mixed feelings about Hu Jia.

His arrest is certainly prima facie evidence that today’s CCP retains much of the prickly, pig-headed, uptight, asinine qualities of yore. And yet, there’s no denying Hu was often a self-promoter, practically shouting at the government, “Arrest me,” especially considering his timing. (He was warned that such antics right before the Olympic Games would not be tolerated, and he persisted in a most in-your-face manner.) None of that even begins to justify his arrest, but maybe it raises questions about Hu’s judgment and motivations?

Hu did dedicate much of his time to raising awareness of AIDS and environmental issues in China. But my friends, one of whom works at the United Nations, challenged me about what Hu has actually done aside from draw attention to himself and get himself arrested. I mentioned a project he launched to help AIDS orphans in Henan, and they countered that it was more hype than anything else. “Basically he wrote some emails,” my friend countered. “Do we award the Nobel Prize to someone who just sent out emails?” Before anyone jumps on a high horse and says I’m slandering Hu Jia (whom I’ve defended many times on this blog), please understand I am only saying I don’t know – that maybe he’s an example of our emotions (mine included) making us jump to conclusions. Or maybe he actually did deserve the Nobel Prize. As I said, mixed feelings.

Whether he deserves the Sakharov Prize is up for debate, as with any prize for political activism. In any case, if this inspires greater scrutiny of China’s repressive tendencies, paranoia and eagerness to arrest anyone who threatens to shed light on them, then I’m glad Hu Jia won.

I meant to put up a one-liner, and suddenly it became a tome. Good night.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 48 Comments

Trying to be balance sometimes is a curse, not a gift.

October 23, 2008 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

note from richard-people should only protest at times the government deems appropriate. unfortunately richard-in china, that would mean never. remember how many people were allowed to protest in the “protest zone” during the olympics? ZERO

October 24, 2008 @ 4:45 am | Comment

Who won?

October 24, 2008 @ 5:22 am | Comment

“Basically he wrote some emails,”
Frankly, it strikes me as a bit problematic to criticize the effectiveness of someone who lived under house arrest (see the Freedom City videos on youtube). One can imagine that Hu Jia might have been more active or effective in a different political environment, WHERE HE COULD ACTUALLY DO THINGS WITHOUT BEING ARRESTED OR ABUSED.
I haven’t heard of anyone criticizing Anne Frank for just sitting around and writing a diary, or something like that. In extraordinary situations, even ordinary activism and actions can be extraordinary.
If Hu did live in a different environment where he could actually do things without the problems he has faced, he probably would be less important or well-known. Setting aside “practical matters,” both Hu Jia and Gao Zhisheng (as well as Ding Zilin, who was nominated a few years ago) serve primarily a “spiritual” function, as inspiring figures able to stand up in the face of extreme oppression and attempt to let their voices be heard. And certainly, we can’t blame them if, due to the political environment, their voices aren’t heard in their own country or their programs are continually prevented from being implemented. Their willingness to do anything at all controversial in this environment is already far more impressive than anything that their fenqing and official detractors might attempt.

October 24, 2008 @ 5:59 am | Comment

Kevin, I am not talking about what he did after the house arrest. What did he achieve before that merits international prizes? I thought he had done some extraordinary things. My friends said I was wrong. And I’m asking what people think.

The Ann Frank diary comparison isn’t really fair. What she is deservedly famous for is writing an optimistic diary under appalling conditions and how she retained her belief in the essential goodness of man even while true evil lurked right outside her door, and would soon come in and extinguish her. I just asked: What did Hu Jia actually do to merit this honor? Maybe you remember me championing him a few weeks ago? One thing I am willing to do – and I know it infuriates some people – is to look at my own prejudices and ask myself whether I really understood the situation or if maybe I was operating under assumptions or didn’t really get the whole picture. I went through this process both with Taiwan and Tibet, and that’s what I’m doing know – trying to see what the real situation is.

Marc, people should be free to protest whenever and wherever they choose. I would love to go into Tiananmen Square and protest about lots of things, Would it be an intelligent thing for me to go and do that? Meaning, would it further my cause and help me reach my goals? Only if my goal is to get lots of attention and get arrested. And sometimes that is a very noble goal (Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Cindy Sheehan did it to considerable effect). But getting arrested in and of itself doesn’t quite cut it. If Ann Frank had been stuck in the room and later killed and had not performed the extraordinary act of writing one of the world’s most moving books in human history, she would be anonymous, no one would know her name. It wasn’t her arrest, it was her book. All I’m asking is, where is Hu Jia’s “book”?

October 24, 2008 @ 8:54 am | Comment

This cat was on NED’s payroll, end of story.

October 24, 2008 @ 10:21 am | Comment

I think the comparison holds, as your description of Anne Frank corresponds exactly to how I described what Hu Jia and others do:
“writing an optimistic diary under appalling conditions and how she retained her belief in the essential goodness of man even while true evil lurked right outside her door, and would soon come in and extinguish her.”
Hu Jia, Gao Zhisheng, Ding Zilin maintain optimism and a willingness to think for themselves, to stand up and maintain their sense of goodness and their sympathy for their fellow man amidst the coldheartedness and selfishness of reform-era China. People might cringe when I say this, but I do think that they are standing up against evils in Chinese society.
Even if they are not able to accomplish substantive material change, this is not because they have not tried. And despite their arrests, suppression, and silencing by the powers that be, their optimism and dedication should serve as an inspiration.

October 24, 2008 @ 10:21 am | Comment

“Before anyone jumps on a high horse and says I’m slandering Hu Jia (whom I’ve defended many times on this blog), please understand I am only saying I don’t know – that maybe he’s an example of our emotions (mine included) making us jump to conclusions. Or maybe he actually did deserve the Nobel Prize. As I said, mixed feelings.”

I suspect that the West is desperate to show some “soft power” successes vis-a-vis China. My guess is that the original plan behind all the scholarships given to Chinese students to study in the West and joint foreign-Chinese academic programs was to project Western values (i.e., “soft power”). In light of the number of middle-aged and senior US lawyers, academics, Fulbright professors, businesspeople, etc., who are now married to young Chinese girls and singing China’s praises, it may be the case that this approach has backfired, and it is China that is winning the soft power game. I recall that even NY Times columist Brooks recently wrote a piece praising the Chinese and mocking the American people as “whiners”.

October 24, 2008 @ 10:38 am | Comment

Kevin, agreed that they should serve as an inspiration. Do not agree that, if that arrest is their sole clam to fame, that all people who optimistically go to jail for a cause are candidates for the world’s top peace prizes. So many people were arrested in recent years for standing up to the CCP and fighting evil. The difference between them and Hu apparently is that he publicized his case with the foreign media. Many of them received sentences far harsher than Hu’s. I guess I would be more appreciative of his winning the award if he had devoted more of his time to the actual causes and less to self-promotion.

Buck, you may have a point.

October 24, 2008 @ 10:40 am | Comment

” i guess i would be more appreciative of his winning the award if he had devoted more of his time to the actual causes and less to self-promotion.”

let’s see-hu jia travelled to inner mongolia and planted trees to try to stop the advance of the gobi desert, formed an ngo to help those affected with hiv/aids, rode a bike down a dirt road to deliver supplies to those affected with the disease despite local government resistance, and continued attempts to help people despite surveillance, harrassment, house arrest, and imprisonment. yeah, you are right richard, he is clearly, only concerned with self-promotion.

hey richard-is the ccp paying the rent on your apartment?

October 24, 2008 @ 10:55 am | Comment

Hu did what his employer wanted. please read Hu Jia’s letter to German Chancellor Merkel in which he seems to represent “hundreds of millions of Chinese buddhists welcome Dalai Lama back to Tibet”. He did important part of the job to force the Chinese government to accept the Trojan Horse back to destablise China.”HIV activism” landed him in jail? You do think the Chinese government is a bunch of stupids, do you?USD 180,000 is simply not enough to pay him. A prize added to the pay.This is part of the Tibet card and evidence of how the west desperately interfere with Chinese politics.

October 24, 2008 @ 11:15 am | Comment

great NYT article about lawyer Gao: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/international/asia/13lawyer.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

I dont know much about Hu, but I know about Gao, and he definitely deserves recognition, he is a real super guy.

documentation of Gao’s three open letters to the CCP, he actually did and said things that were so brave and true that he is now thrown into the gulag.

http://en.epochtimes.com/news/5-12-16/35876.html

October 24, 2008 @ 11:46 am | Comment

marc, aside from opening the NGO, the other things you listed are really quite lightweight. Planting trees and arguing with the government. I’ve done both myself. And about the NGO: what did it achieve? Honest question. I only read about Hu Jia as an activist who we bloggers wrote about when he got harassed. It wasn’t his accomplishments, it was his harassment that got the attention. So I am trying to uncover exactly what he should be winning the world’s highest honors for – after I recommended him for the Nobel Prize myself just a few weeks ago.

Sometimes we hypnotize ourselves into thinking someone’s a hero or this or that, when actually they are human beings and their stories don’t quite match the myth. I remember how when I was a kid I thought Robert Frost was this saintly silver-haired embodiment of the rustic charm of New England life, a gentle, loving avuncular poet. It hurts to learn later that he was a petty, nasty scumbag. That is an example of mythbusting – I am not saying Hu Jia is any of those things (I don’t know if he’s ever been to New England). What I am saying is that I get the feeling we (I included) built Hu Jia up because we love heroes who stand up to the CCP. And I do love those heroes. But when you get past the very heart-stirring story of the arrest and the harassment, what is there actually to merit greatness. Planted trees, okay. Fought with the government, okay. Helped raise awareness of AIDS, excellent. I’ve done all three of those things myself. The NGO could hold the answer; I am willing to say Hu Jia was the best candidate for this prize if you tell me what they did and what they achieved.

So interesting, challenging people’s sacred cows. Reminds me of when I pointed out that many of the media and bloggers were calling the “Boys in Blue” during the torch relay “thugs” and “Nazis.” It was all based on their appearance – stone-faced, wearing sunglasses, unsmiling, anonymous; no one could actually pinpoint what they did that was comparable to thugs or Nazis, except to quote people who were there who said they “felt” they were thuggish. But there was nothing to back up the perception except the complainers’ own prejudices. So I ask, without emotion or personal opinion, what did Hu Jia do to merit the world’s peace prizes? Planting trees and arguing with officials don’t quite put him at the top of the list, I believe. You still have an opportunity to persuade me, just tell me the facts.

And marc, if you ever repeat that line about the CCP paying me, I’ll be annoyed. Look through this blog. I rip the party to shreds and compare elements of it to the world’s worst thugs and monsters. Did you read my review of Out of Mao’s Shadows?

October 24, 2008 @ 11:56 am | Comment

heres Gao speaking:

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=4ua7rpdMvKo

Gao’s daughter is beaten by CCP:

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=RIuuk7c9db0&feature=related

October 24, 2008 @ 11:58 am | Comment

Snow thanks for the link to your paper of choice,Epoch Times. Why the link to the 2005 NYT story on the “gadfly”?

October 24, 2008 @ 12:11 pm | Comment

interview about the book ‘ A China More Just ‘ by Mr. Gao

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=dg9AHstEsXQ&NR=1

October 24, 2008 @ 12:11 pm | Comment

Cause for nobel Peace prize both Gao and Hu were nominated, and you mentioned that you didnt really know much about Hu. I don’t know too much about Hu, but I do know about Gao… So if you wanna know about it, you could read that article so as to know him better. My humble opinion is that Gao definitely deserved to have won that thing, as for Hu, like I said, I dont know.

Was that some kind of snickery remark by the way?

peace.

October 24, 2008 @ 12:21 pm | Comment

I don’t know too much about Hu, but I do know about Gao…

Okay, I kind of get your logic… Don’t necessarily agree about Gao, but would prefer not to go there. Any talk here about FLG brings out the worst in everybody. And no, it was not a “snickery remark.”

October 24, 2008 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

“what did hu jia do to merit the world’s peace prize?”

at the risk of empty rhetoric-how about he spoke truth to power? richard, i think you are bringing your world view with you to this question. having grown up in america, you are probably saying to yourself that it is no big deal to protest, to raise awareness, to reveal uncomfortable truths.

you are not in america. this is china. they do not want to reveal/uncover uncomfortable truths. perfect example-that glorious blue and white label pristine milk you have been drinking for the last 2 years. sorry. it is not pristine. it is poisoned with melamine and the government knew and covered it up, again, lest there be some revelation right before the olympics. ring any bells. sars?

what did hu jia do? he knew hiv/aids was a bigger problem and said so at a time when the government was saying, “there is no aids in china.” this is a government, world renowned for its ostrich defense. hard to do when someone is revealing the truth. how many people in china don’t have premarital sex because of hu jia? how many people in china wear condoms because of hu jia? how many people in china have access to condoms because of hu jia? how many people in china have medicine to treat hiv/aids and prolong their life because of hu jia? i don’t know, but if it is only 1, i would give him the noble prize.

how ironic that he lives in a condo complex named “bobo freedom city” is there any freedom in his apartment complex richard? he cannnot even speak to the press, nor can his wife, without the plain clothes goones (excuse me-undercover police) accosting them.

maybe you think i am a name caller, but honestly, reading your blog lately, i see a marked difference in your posts now compared to years ago. maybe i misjudge. maybe i am wrong about hu jia. i hope i am not wrong.

October 24, 2008 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

TOKYO —

Japan will not accept security guards dispatched from China when the city of Nagano in central Japan hosts the Olympic torch relay April 26, National Public Safety Commission Chairman Shinya Izumi said Friday. So far, special elite guards from China’s Public Security Ministry, dressed in blue and white, have been running with the torchbearers in all countries.

Richard,

those blue tracksuit olympic torch guys were security guards right? probly from the department of public security. Sure out in the open, they cannot do anything violent and crazy, but if they are from the China PSB, then they are goons hired by the mafia. In the China the security is there to suppress not to protect.

October 24, 2008 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

I agree talking about Falun Gong brings out some horrid truths about some people, like if they are your regular biddies and then you find out that they approve of the CCPs policies of torture against them, I dont blame you if you can’t stand to know that…

October 24, 2008 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

I meant to say buddies.

October 24, 2008 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

Snow, your clip about the Boys in Blue is exactly – exactly – what I was talking about.

Sure out in the open, they cannot do anything violent and crazy, but if they are from the China PSB, then they are goons hired by the mafia.

Thanks for proving my point Guilt by association? As I said, they didn’t do anything thuggish, but people’s prejudices made them see them as thugs.

I agree talking about Falun Gong brings out some horrid truths about some people, like if they are your regular biddies and then you find out that they approve of the CCPs policies of torture against them, I dont blame you if you can’t stand to know that…

Pardon me?

Marc, I know it’s a big deal to protest. That’s why I’ve sung Hu Jia’s praises for years. And yeah, there’s a “marked difference” because I learned the CCP is on some ways even worse than I thought, and in other areas it’s not quite as evil as I thought. And I like to question my own assumptions and try to learn. I’ve done this on some big issues over the years, and it’s a good exercise, to stop and say, well what exactly happened, and am I letting my emotions distort the picture? I’ve done the same with others I’ve admired, like Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa – when I look at them hard, without my preconcieved notions and opinions, I saw a lot of warts. I realize this totally exasperates those who want to show Hu Jia as good and the CCP as bad. The funny thing is, I am not even contradicting that.I’m just asking, what did the guy do?

You raised all those questions about him in China (“How many people wear condom because of Hu Jia?”) but you admit you have no answer. Do we know if he made a difference in the fight against AIDS? I would say he did, mainly by helping to bring it to the world’s attention. But did he make any difference in China, which is what your list of questions is about? I just don’t know. If you feel that he should earn the “Noble prize” for, as you say, giving one condom to one person who then didn’t get AIDS – a wonderfully noble thing to do – then I think we’re not having a serious discussion. I have a lot of friends who are volunteers who hand out condoms to those in risk groups in and around Beijing. Splendid men and women, all of them. Do they deserve the Nobel prize? I love them, but I’m afraid they don’t.

I can see we won’t get very far on this one. None of us likes our belief systems tampered with.

October 24, 2008 @ 1:07 pm | Comment

Certainly, if we like to tamper with our belief systems, we can question the recipient of every Nobel Peace Prize, with no real outcome: I mean, Al Gore got recognized for his environmentalism, which was already an open topic of discussion in America, unlike human rights in China, which is certainly a particularly prickly subject. What does this say about either Hu Jia or Al Gore?
Hu Jia’s actions certainly took a lot more daring than Al Gore. However, I can’t really say that either of them accomplished too much “on the ground” in terms of their respective causes (about which there is much overlap). Al Gore had a book and a movie, but wouldn’t Hu Jia have that as well if he were not in such an environment?
I certainly can’t say that either of them is more qualified than the other. If I could, perhaps I would be a Nobel judge. But even if I was a Nobel judge, I imagine that I could not decide clearly who was more qualified. There is no objective standard for the NObel Peace Prize: we can’t really measure how much someone has done. However, inspiration is clearly a factor, and in that respect, I think that Hu Jia or Gao Zhisheng or Ding Zilin are deserving.

October 24, 2008 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

PS- This is the first time in my life that I have heard so so so very much discussion of whether someone who did not even win the Nobel Peace Prize actually would have deserved it. Such extreme doubt does not even extend to actual winners: did that Finnish guy deserve to win? Sure haven’t seen any threads about it anywhere!
However, I would imagine that just as long as he was sincerely nominated and seriously considered, he was quite qualified.
The only reason that this entire line of thought exists is because the Chinese government, Chinese pseudo-”nationalists,” and a couple of people who have been influenced by official ideology have begun to internalize the official worldview which casts doubt on anything that does not accord with the despicable Chinese government’s wishes. Why Hu Jia instead of Chairman Hu? He has brought so many people out of poverty through his singular efforts!
There are plenty of great things to cast doubt upon in this world, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to reassess the nomination of Hu Jia for the Peace Prize. Simply the amount of ideologues’ vile criticisms that have resulted from this development (which was clearly not a case of self-promotion, as he is stuck in jail!) should show that he is an important individual for the course of Chinese society at the moment.
The question that we should be asking is not whether he deserved to be considered for the prize (an honor which he did not win), but whether or not he should be sitting in jail at the moment, and whether or not his family should be placed under house arrest and frequent disappearance (honors which he and his family are currently “enjoying”)?
To do otherwise returns to the Anne Frank comparison- why’s she just sitting around writing a diary? What good is that? Perhaps, for some, the good can only be seen from a distance.

October 24, 2008 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

richard, i see what you mean by hu jia being perhaps an attention seeker and not having set up much. however attention seeking is a large part of activism and setting up anything in china is problematic, let alone something that is politically sensitive.

having said that, for me, giving hu jia a prize just to piss off the ccp is reason enough to do it. china’s political system is ridiculously backward if it cannot tolerate a guy doing environmental and aids awareness. the ccp will never have any respect whilst it is so backward, and our contempt for its inability to tolerate any criticism should be rammed down its throat at every opportunity.

October 24, 2008 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

Si, I tend to agree with you. Anything that raises awareness of AIDS in China and that embarrasses the CCP by resulting in closer scrutiny is okay by me.

Kevin, yeah, not sure how the conversation devolved the way it did. Still disagree about Ann Frank and think she certainly did do something tangible and measurable to change the world and shake us into a better understanding of human nature and man’s capacity for both unimaginable evil and infinite forgiveness. But we can let that rest.

October 24, 2008 @ 4:22 pm | Comment

regarding the thing about saying hu jia just wrote some emails, couldn’t you equally say sakharov just wrote some essays?

October 24, 2008 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

Well, Sakharov’s essays enlightened the world about the iniquities, corruption and inhumanity of the USSR. You could say Ann Frank “just wrote a book,” but that book was transformational for millions. Again, I’m not sure about Hu Jia’s emails, if they re up there. According to one friend who works fulltime with an AIDS NGO in China, the emails were to reporters and did not do much to further their cause. He and his Chinese co-worker think Hu Jia was a sensationalist who got way too much coverage for his house arrest, which he web-cast to the EU congress and not being a significant force for change when it came to action in the field. Are they right? I can’t say, which is why I’ve tried to understand what his actual contribution was.

Taking everything I’ve heard and read into consideration (including Philip Pan’s brief mention of Hu Jia in Out of Mao’s Shadow, where he describes him as being reckless but absolutely dedicated to his cause), I see Hu as a contributor to a wonderful cause, and willing to face serious personal risk, even if it was not necessary and when he may have done more by being more subtle. If it were up to me, this lady would be my choice, but unfortunately I was unavailable when they asked for my input.

October 24, 2008 @ 7:42 pm | Comment

Oh, just to make sure that I’m clear, I didn’t mean to disparage Anne Frank: the comment that she “just wrote a book” was a sarcastic example, taking the logic of these criticisms of Hu Jia to extremes. Anything can be minimized, but it is a bit callous for those of us living lives of relative luxury and freedom to be critical of those facing arrest and death for nothing more than their views.
And certainly, there are other Chinese activists or dissidents that I would have picked before Hu Jia. But in terms of making a statement about an inspirational person, Hu Jia seems like a fine guy, who is certainly not deserving of the ridiculous degree of doubts that have been cast upon him as he spends his days in prison for no justifiable reason.

October 25, 2008 @ 1:05 am | Comment

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October 25, 2008 @ 4:26 am | Pingback

There is a serious credibility problem with this European Parliament. It has been a major platform for the Tibetan separatists. The Dalai Lama made his Road Map to Independence speech there, and ever since then Strasbourg has been the center for all the pro-Tibet activities in Europe. Had the European Parliament been more impartial on the Tibetan issue, the Chinese people would have taken Hu Jia’s Sakhrov prize more seriously. But now most people will just see it as a publicity stunt, similar to the ones pulled out by the Free Tibet nutcases.

October 25, 2008 @ 6:30 am | Comment

“Had the European Parliament been more impartial on the Tibetan issue, the Chinese people would have taken Hu Jia’s Sakhrov prize more seriously.”
Yes, I’m sure they would have… It might also help, however, if this happening was reported.

October 25, 2008 @ 8:45 am | Comment

“Had the European Parliament been more impartial on the Tibetan issue, the Chinese people would have taken Hu Jia’s Sakhrov prize more seriously.”

I think you’ve been drinking a little too much of the CCP’s Kool Aid.

October 25, 2008 @ 9:41 am | Comment

It’s funny to read comments from those who dismiss the EU’s decision as evidence of a “credibility problem.” (Politically conservative American’s made similar claims after the Nobel committee recognized Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, and Paul Krugman – three arch foes of the current U.S. president.)

I don’t much care if Hu Jia is the most deserving. To be sure, there are others who’ve been around longer, risked as much, and accomplished more than he has. Even so, I’m glad that he was chosen. If nothing else, perhaps it will draw attention to the fact that a man sits in a Chinese prison for expressing the idea that China needs human rights more than it needs to host the Olympics. The more such outrageous excesses are brought to light, the better we’ll all be. Those who angrily obsess about the West’s apparent anti-China bias and the relative (de)merits of Hu Jia’s curriculum vitae would do better to reflect on how China’s meagre constitutional protections would likely fail to defend them against similar predations.

Hu Jia’s accomplishments (or lack thereof) are not the point. The CCP’s decision to imprison him is. To whatever extent the EU’s decision encourages Chinese to consider the issue of Hu Jia’s arrest and detention, I applaud it.

October 25, 2008 @ 3:03 pm | Comment

From a Chinese blogger, courtesy of Inside out China
“Our criminal, world’s hero”: “Sometimes I feel sad for [the government]. On one hand they continuously produce candidates [for international prizes], on the other they are scared into a cold sweats by their own production of such candidates.”"

October 25, 2008 @ 3:12 pm | Comment

Is Hu Jia a hero?
Maybe not in a romantic shining-knight-on-white-horse way, nor in a Rambo-Hollywood-movie way, nor in the Christian martyr’s getting-cut-to-pieces-for-your-belief way. But in the real life everyday “I stick to my principles and I’m calling a spade a spade even when threatened by an authoritarian dictatorship” way, yes, he certainly is a hero.

Does such a “little” hero who’s “only” drawn attention to himself by speaking up, when most people shut up out of fear, deserve the Nobel Peace Prize or the Sakharov Prize for Freedom?
Yes, in my humble opinion even more than some brilliant diplomat whose achievements for mankind are much greater, but who never had to risk his own life or freedom for it.

Are there others who have deserved those prizes more than Hu Jia?
Certainly yes! Actually, I believe that for every person who ever received one of those prizes there are hundreds or even thousands who have done, suffered and sacrificed at least as much or even more, but they are not that well known. Those prizes are always given to (relatively) prominent figures. Hu Jia also got the Sakharov Prize because he is relatively well known and represents all the less prominent people who have been imprisoned for advocating human rights. The European Parliament’s intention was to “[send] out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China.”

October 25, 2008 @ 11:47 pm | Comment

But in the real life everyday “I stick to my principles and I’m calling a spade a spade even when threatened by an authoritarian dictatorship” way, yes, he certainly is a hero.

Agreed. (This is why I admired Cindy Sheehan as well; though with her, too, I felt disillusioned when I felt she was enjoying her celebrity status too much.)

Does such a “little” hero who’s “only” drawn attention to himself by speaking up, when most people shut up out of fear, deserve the Nobel Peace Prize or the Sakharov Prize for Freedom?

I would say yes if they drew attention to themselves in a way that furthered their cause as opposed to mainly giving them celebrity status. Sakharov is a prime example of this, as was Solzhenytisin.

I am delighted that this award makes a strong statement about human rights in China. I think other people probably deserved it more, but as you say, that argument can be made about any prize like this. I do believe there’s a degree of myth-making behind Hu Jia’s aura, based mainly on our need for heroes. I didn’t think that before (obviously; I said two weeks ago he should have won the Nobel prize), but I believe it even more strongly today. Brave, dedicated, a great speaker, irrepressible, but definitely lacking in sound judgment and prone to yearning for attention even if it wasn’t necessary. I still don’t think he was the best choice when you look at others who were also harassed and made more measurable contributions to awareness of AIDS in China, but at least it went to someone who was fighting for human rights here.

October 26, 2008 @ 12:24 am | Comment

From the Guardian:
A life of purity and dignity
The moral strength shown by Hu Jia, jailed in China for subversion, stands in sharp contrast to the state that persecutes him

On June 4 1990, a year after the Beijing massacre, a young man stood in Tiananmen Square – which was full of armed soldiers and police – with a small white flower pinned to his black outfit, a traditional sign of mourning in China. His name was Hu Jia, and he was a high school student in Beijing.

In the 18 years that have passed since that day, Hu Jia has forged a consistent path. He volunteered to plant trees in the desert in China after graduating from college; he has been an advocate for HIV/Aids patients since 2000; and he became one of China’s most vocal and uncompromising human rights activists after lending his name to a campaign for an imprisoned online writer. In 2004, he again brought flowers to Tiananmen Square. Chinese police arrested him, and demanded his mother take him to a psychiatric hospital to have him examined. I believe the police officers did this not because they wanted to use a mental hospital to persecute Hu Jia (as the Chinese government has done to other political dissidents); rather, in the view of the Chinese party-state, this wan, softly-spoken young man, who has chosen a life of compassionate action over the past 15 years, must be crazy.

True, Hu Jia does not have the power of a state or a political party behind him. He walked anonymously around the streets of Beijing, without crowds following him, except a group of plain clothes police. He does not even enjoy good health, and now can only walk in his prison cell. But Hu Jia has lived a life of purity and dignity. And the measure of the moral power of such a life is best seen in contrast to the gargantuan state that imprisoned him.

This kind of dignity is not evident in the spectacular Olympics opening ceremony, nor in the Chinese astronauts who recently completed a space walk. In those productions, we see only the power and glory of the state. Most recently and tragically, we have seen thousands of Chinese babies hospitalised for drinking tainted milk powder following a state media cover-up of the contamination in the run-up to the Olympics – one example of many illustrating the human price Chinese people have paid for the powerful and glorious image of the state.

Hu Jia has chosen to stand with those who suffer, and to lend his voice to those who are voiceless in Chinese society. He has also confronted his persecutors, and brilliantly tapped into the power of digital advocacy. By doing so, he has become a living symbol of defiance and resistance to the world’s most powerful authoritarian state. He has paid a price for the moral path he chose. But he deserves the honour of the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought, not as compensation for his suffering, but as recognition of the simple, but powerful, message embodied in such a courageous life: Chinese people do want, demand and deserve human rights and the fundamental freedom to live with dignity, just like all other people on this planet.

October 26, 2008 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

I spoke with two people this weekend who have worked with Hu JIa. I had my doubts confirmed: he has achieved nothing in terms of making a difference in AIDS awareness inside China, was a constant pain to those he worked with and was fired from the first NGO he worked with for self-aggrandizing; his own NGO did next to nothing and anything it did do was done by his wife, his main claim to fame is calling foreign journalists; he was very dedicated to the cause, which was usually generating stories about his own harassment; he worked very hard and long; he went to two cities to do AIDS awareness work but no one knows what he actually achieved; his arrest, which he in effect insisted take place, in no way helped his associates or their cause; the major NGOs look on him as a pest and a gadfly. “Go to anyone who’s working for NGOs in China and ask them what they think of Hu Jia,” one such worker said at breakfast this morning. “If they are from a big organization like the UN they think he’s basically a self-promoter. If they are from a Chinese NGO they’ve never heard of him because he didn’t do anything for their causes here.”

That “purity and dignity” in the Guardian piece sounds really nice, but it doesn’t mean very much. This is the type of article that convinces me the arguments I’m hearing are accurate: the foreign media have been spoon-fed an image of Hu Jia that they adore and since they can’t really back it up with specifics (you know, stories of people he’s helped and actual things he achieved) it’s all adjectives and no nouns aside from harassment and imprisonment, which he insisted on.

Anyone who stands up to the CCP is a hero to me. But so, so, so, so, so many others stood up higher and were struck down with far more brutal force and achieved so many more tangible results for the betterment of China than Hu Jia. He is a brave, daring, reckless, hard-working activist and media darling who would be hopelessly obscure were he not fluent in English and savvy about reaching foreign correspondents and winning the kind of sympathy we see in the grandiose and ultimately empty articles like the one from the Guardian. A remarkably vacuous article. Look it over carefully and tell me where the achievement lies.

October 26, 2008 @ 7:29 pm | Comment

…his arrest, which he in effect insisted take place, in no way helped his associates or their cause;…

Do you mean to say Hu Jia got arrested because he wanted to go to prison? By the way, it’s nothing new that somebody’s arrest usually doesn’t help their associates or their cause. It would be terrible to only think that my associates are better off with me sitting in prison.

October 27, 2008 @ 1:20 am | Comment

The article in the “foreign media” that you referred to was written by Xiao Qiang of China Digital Times.

October 27, 2008 @ 2:13 am | Comment

Great. Did you go back and highlight Hu’s actual achievements? I feel bad for Xiao Qiang; he had very little to work with. I think it’s the “purity and dignity” line that gets me. Noble sounding but what does it mean?

October 27, 2008 @ 8:47 am | Comment

I think a number of people have cited Hu’s achievements in this comments section, yet you continue to repeat that he made no actual achievements.
I would say that in looking for the trees, you’re missing the forest, which I think that we all recognize is there.
Again, we return to the Anne Frank analogy, or innumerable other heroes. Their accomplishments might not be what they actually do, but what they inspire people to do and what they help people to recognize about themselves.
His heroic nature is undoubtedly situational: while you can criticize him for being a media darling, in the political environment in China, his outspoken engagement with the media was an act of bravery, and I certainly can’t think of anything Al Gore or any other winners of the prizes that we have discussed have done that necessarily outshines his efforts to change China by example.
Finally, it is quite callous to suggest that Hu insisted upon his own arrest, particularly since he was arrested for no good reason. He was not insisting on his own arrest, but engaging in acts which should be completely normal and would never justify anyone’s arrest. One should not refer to victims in unsavory situations as “asking for it.”

October 27, 2008 @ 9:51 am | Comment

[...] correct. Go back to my original post, where in the comments I discuss a conversation I had just yesterday with people whose work is [...]

October 27, 2008 @ 10:10 am | Pingback

I’m closing this thread – please put all comments in the new thread on this topic.

October 27, 2008 @ 10:11 am | Comment

[...] him to comment) expect recommending readers to check out what Richard at Peking Duck had to say here and here as well as Xujun’s take at inside-outside China. By the way, I am referencing [...]

November 23, 2008 @ 2:53 pm | Pingback

[...] him to comment) expect recommending readers to check out what Richard at Peking Duck had to say here and here as well as Xujun’s take at inside-outside China. By the way, I am referencing [...]

November 25, 2008 @ 7:34 pm | Pingback

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