Monday, October 11, 2010

The Nobel Peace Prize is Awarded to Liu Xiaobo

This week the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced it was awarding the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a man who has worked for decades in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to promote human rights through nonviolent means. The Committee’s announcement is available at the link below:

Members of our family were born in the PRC, so the honor bestowed on Mr. Liu is particularly noteworthy to us. The world has been awed by the PRC’s dramatic economic growth in recent years. We sometimes hear the downside to the growth is that Chinese workers are exploited in factories where they work long hours under poor conditions and are paid very little. We think of the mistreatment occurring at the hands of the private sector; the PRC government generally takes a laissez-faire approach to capitalism. There seems to be little regulation to protect human beings or the environment.

In recent years, as the country has embraced capitalism, we sometimes forget the PRC is still technically a communist country. At this point in time, however, the benefits of communism have evaporated, while all the horrors of communism remain. The state no longer guarantees a job, housing, or health care to its people. But it still limits basic freedoms we take for granted in the West like determining the size of one’s family, the freedom to speak one’s mind, the ability to criticize the government without fear of reprisal, and the ability to freely practice one’s chosen religion.

Our family has some American friends who currently live in the PRC. They moved there to work in a local start-up business. They are Christians, who have worked in their church back home in the United States, and would like to support local Christians in the PRC. However, the Chinese government does not welcome missionaries, and our friends are fearful of attracting the wrong kind of attention because it could lead to their expulsion. They realize that their e-mail can be monitored, so they have urged friends in the U.S. to be careful in the wording of religious messages in their e-mails. In keeping with their request, last Easter I sent them greetings but tried to avoid buzz words that might be a red flag to authorities. I am not adept at inventing code, but wrote to express my hope that our friends would find joy over the “son’s victory.” They understood my funky phrasing and were excited to get such greetings in an officially atheistic nation. The link below contains an article about missionaries in the PRC at the time of the Beijing Olympics.

After the announcement that Mr. Liu had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the PRC implemented a news blackout and people in the country do not even know who won this year’s Peace Prize. I heard on the news yesterday that Mr. Liu himself had not yet been told. The article below describes the news blackout.

It is amazing that the government is able to manipulate information so effectively in this day and age in a country with over a billion people. When I’ve traveled in the PRC and had an opportunity to speak with people who have lived their entire lives there, they are often not familiar with the Great Chinese Famine of 1958-1961, the Tiananmen Massacre, or the huge numbers of children in orphanages (mostly abandoned girls due to the One Child Policy). Because I don’t speak any Chinese dialect, I have only been able to speak with people who are fluent in English. Thus, I tend to only talk to some of the best educated folks in society. It is interesting because the folks I’ve spoken with are not sure what to believe when told by Westerners about these events that the government has not permitted the press to report. It is understandably difficult for them to try to decide who is more trustworthy--a friendly Westerner whom they do not know well, or their own government. They often have hesitation in believing what their government says, but it is hard to take in that the level of misinformation might be as wide in scope as it is.

The PRC is a country with a staggeringly large population. Much of its vast land is uninhabitable, so the people often live in crowded cities. Poverty is still a tremendous problem despite all the economic growth. In such a context, it can be easy to overlook individuals’ stories.

The link below includes a touching, personal description of Mr. Liu. It includes a profoundly beautiful letter that he wrote to his wife when he was being sent to prison last year. The depth and strength of his love is inspiring beyond words. Mr. Liu is clearly a patriot and a humanitarian who has been working for years at great personal risk to improve human rights in his country. But he is also a man with a soul who loves his wife very much. That love is helping him to bear the horror of a long imprisonment.

Mr. Liu’s words of love for his wife, as well as his hopes for freedom of expression in his country, remind me of my own blessings. I am deeply grateful for my husband and to live in a country where I can speak my mind without fear of imprisonment. May each of us not take for granted the blessings we enjoy.

Psalm 79:11

May the groans of the prisoners come before you; by the strength of your arm preserve those condemned to die.

Matthew 14:3-4, 9-10

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her."
The king … had John beheaded in the prison

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