Saturday, October 09, 2010

Liu Xiaobo

A very interesting moment to be in China.... The second the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, CNN and BBC World went dead in our hotel. There is, of course, no reportage in the local media, although it is still possible to find English news on line. The firewalls are definitely even higher than before, though.

From a purely selfish standpoint, we're hoping that the Chinese government's fury only extends to Norway (which by historical accident awards this particular prize), and not to the main Nobel country, Sweden. If it does, then we can forget the last leg of this project. I suspect we'll be OK. China is too pragmatic to be consumed with irrational fury these days.

Liu Xiaobo probably doesn't even know he's won the prize. Neither do the bulk of his countrymen. But it's a bold and powerful decision - far better than the token nod towards Obama for not being Bush last year, and much better than the travesties of awards to Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Menachim Begin. This is a man who has made it his life's work to strive towards human rights in China, and has sacrificed any semblance of a normal way of living to achieve that aim. Reading his speech from the dock, you cannot but be incredibly moved.

The strange thing is that his talk of liberation and human dignity is very similar to the rhetoric of the people who founded the PRC. Or at least some of them. Since I've been here, I've been reading Han Suyin's wonderful biography of Premier Zhou Enlai, and this morning I visited the former home of Soong Chingling. What I've been realising is that these two great figures were survivors from the intellectual end of the communist revolution, and that their vision and idealism was constantly undermined by Mao's insistence on the inherent wisdom of the peasantry. The contemporary Chinese mistrust of debate and engagement is not simply an authoritarian thing - it also goes back to the conflicts of the Cultural Revolution period.

So our work, aiming to provoke the audience into thinking for itself, is a very radical thing here. We are not presenting a piece which offers neat solutions and easy answers. We offer a range of possibilities. This may well bemuse many of the audience - but that fact is itself the proof of its necessity.

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