What if they gave an award and the recipient didn’t show up? As we all know, that’s what happened last year when the Nobel committee set up an empty chair for the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, infuriating the Chinese government, which saw the committee’s choice of Liu as an act of provocation, something that caused China a lot of hurt feelings.
What followed next was a vintage only-in-China fiasco, in which a group in China quickly created the “Confucius Peace Prize,” presented as China’s version of the Nobel, which they awarded to former Taiwan vice-president Lien Chan, who didn’t want it. Once more, there was “an empty seat,” and China once again had its feelings hurt by the ridicule this created.
Now it seems the ill-conceived Confucius Peace Prize is in jeopardy.
The Confucius Peace Prize, which started last year and was widely heralded as China’s Nobel Peace Prize, faces the prospect of cancellation this year, as an official group reportedly behind it has denied any ties with the award.
When the prize was announced on Sept 17 last year, one of the organizers was Wang Shenggui, a division chief for the Beijing-based Association of Chinese Local Art.
However, according to a recent statement, the group said Wang was acting outside of his official capacity, and that plans to start the award were never discussed with association heads, who answer directly to the Ministry of Culture.
“Wang didn’t tell us anything about the prize,” said Zhang Houbang, the association’s standing vice-president.
The group only became aware of it through media reports, he said, adding that the ministry called him on Sept 19 to demand an explanation.
Zhang stressed that the association’s focus is limited to promoting Chinese art, and that Wang’s involvement in the prize was not allowed.
Wang was subsequently dismissed for violating the rules, while his division, which focused on the preservation of traditional culture, was scrapped, said the statement.
This is what we call a train wreck. Everything the CCP has done to suppress the Liu Xiaobo story has only succeeded in keeping it front and center. The Confucius prize only exists, of course, because of Liu, and any coverage it gets dredges up the embarrassment China suffered with the empty seat in Oslo. Now once again China faces smirks as the world witnesses the internal disarray that seems to spell the end of the Confucius Peace Prize. And once again, the story of Liu’s imprisonment and his wining the Nobel prize gets churned up all over again.
I’m not making any comment for or against Liu; we’ve discussed that many times here. This is a story of incompetency and gob-smackingly bad public relations. How could the Confucius Peace Prize have been trumpeted with such fanfare last year if it was never blessed by the government? Something doesn’t add up, and the only thing that emerges as crystal clear is the government’s complete mishandling of something they should have known would result in international ridicule. Well done.
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.