In the weeks since the award, a predictable pattern emerges, with pro- / anti- camps- digging in. Still, more cogent and careful analysis is wedged in among the morass. The observations by John Sexton, picked up by the Modern Chinese Literature and Culture list-serve, for instance, are worth noting. Sexton points out that not all of Liu’s work is terribly “peace”-oriented, such as his support of the invasion of Iraq.
John Sexton <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
Here are some of the relevant Liu Xiaobo writings. I’ve given a translation of the sentence on John Kerry that is most relevant to what I wrote earlier. It dates from the 2004 Presidential election.
“克里象西方的所有左派一样，把无原则的和平共处视为“国家利益”的主要内容，把 容忍 邪恶政权作为不同国家的共处与维护世界和平的最佳手 段。”
“John Kerry, like all Western leftists, views unprincipled peaceful coexistence as the main content of the national interest, and that the best way of getting along with different countries and maintaining world peace is to tolerate evil governments.”
Sexton goes on to point out that he is certainly not an advocate of imprisoning Liu (“Let me be clear on this, I think Liu Xiaobo should be immediately released from jail”), but appropriately complicates some of the rather reductive press on the subject.
Similarly, Adam Cathcart (my colleague, it bears pointing out), in his Sinologistical Violoncellist blog, takes the New York Times author Edward Wong to task for his article on Liu. The Wong article is of course noteworthy not only because its poorly written, but because it appears in the New York Times. As Cathcart duly points out in his extended reading of Won’g reading of Liu award, the language of Wong’s discussion is rhetorically concerning, quite apart from any of the specific “points” he advances. Cathcart’s analysis opens:
Surely you all have read Edward Wong’s report in the New York Times about the Nobel Prize award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The full text of the article is here; direct quotes from the article are included below in italics and followed by my analysis.
[Ed Wong writes:] 1. BEIJING — Few nations today stand as more of a challenge to the democratic model of governance than China, where an 89-year-old Communist Party has managed to quash political movements while creating a roaring, quasi-market economy and enforcing a veneer of social stability.
This is quite an opening gambit, and its language (specifically its verbs) deserve a bit of attention. (Sometimes adjectives are worth the attention, such as the growing trope that China has a “voracious” appetite for natural resources.) Wong writes that the CCP “Quashes political movements” when the operative verb might also be described as “channel.” Does the CCP only crush, destroy, repress, or does it also understand, shape, reconfigure political pressures? The mention of the party’s age (it was founded in 1921) further makes Wong’s gambit a bit strange, as over the course of its history the Party has done a fair amount of stimulating, rather than quashing, political movements in its history. Perhaps this is not the place to enter into some disquisition on how the galvanizing experiences of the Cultural Revolution have made Chinese leaders since Mao adverse to mass movements (other than those which are nationalistic and relatively easily controlled), but, this party is more flexible and widely (if not uncritically) supported than Wong’s heavy-handed prose would have us believe.
As for the phrase “create an economy,” that’s historically impossible: the CCP inherited a sclerotic and dysfunctional economy from the Nationalists in 1949 and have since revived it. As for the phrase “enforcing a veneer of social stability,” Wong leaves out that social stability is in large part supported by the Chinese masses, but, more importantly, such statements also contain implicit threats to the regime: you could be exposed and overthrown.
In other words, with the opening paragraph, Wong makes plain that his article will also function on the polemical level, and that Liu represents defiance of something immense and consequential.
I applaud Adam’s careful analysis. Would that the New York Times editors could follow suit.