Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” He is the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind. Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison, and is the fourth one to have received one while being in prison or detention.
Liu has been President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center since 2003. He was a part of the Tianamen Square protest in 1989, and was detained and convicted on charges of “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” Liu played a large role in the writing of Charter 08. It was a manifesto that was released on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since the release, over 10,000 people all over have signed the charter. The charter itself were demands for human rights in China, the importance of freedom, and equality. After being released on the internet, Liu was arrested and sentenced to 11-years in jail.
There has been a lot of controversy with Liu winning the Nobel Peace Prize. China had warned the Norwegian Nobel Committee to not honor Liu with the Nobel Peace Prize, but they didn’t listen and wanted to bring awareness to what was occurring in China. At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, an empty chair represented Liu because Beijing would not allow for him or his wife to attend. According to Yang Jianli, a prominent Chinese democracy activist, “An empty seat for the laureate would serve as a reminder to the world that Liu Xiaobo is himself languishing in prison and, more broadly, that the human rights situation in China should be a concern to the international community.” China cancelled meetings with the Norwegian officials and denounced the award “as an affront to the Chinese people and a ploy to try to change the country’s political system,” according to The New York Times. Liu Xia, Liu’s wife, is a photographer who doesn’t get involved in politics, is under house arrest at the couple’s apartment and was not able to attend the ceremony and accept the award for her husband.
Through his actions, Liu has become a representative and symbol for the struggle for human rights in China. In a letter to The Los Angeles Times, Teresa C. Yu wrote “I find that the empty chair for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo speaks volumes. Like the picture of a lone man standing in front of a row of tanks in Beijing in 1989, this image will also be forever ingrained in people’s minds. China’s leaders may think they are strong enough now to flex their sizable economic muscles without having to answer to anyone. But in so doing, they have lost face, big time. If China wants to be a global leader, it must exhibit worthy leadership traits. Jailing Liu for simply voicing his yearning for democracy is definitely not one of them.”