As the Prizes are Awarded, Many in China Feel Left Out
As Nobels went this week to British, Russian, American, and Japanese scientists, Chinese media paired special reports on the winners with expert debates on why China came up short again.
A top reason: China’s government throws money at research in pursuit of the prize, rather than reforming a rigid state-run education system that is heavy on rote memorization, discourages creativity, and drives some leading minds to leave.
“We are too anxious for a Nobel Prize,’’ the Chengdu Daily quoted Chinese-American physicist and Nobel laureate C.N. Yang as saying on a visit to a school last month.
More than another milestone, a Nobel would be proof that the country is retaking what many Chinese see as its rightful place as one of the world’s leading civilizations. For much of the past century, science assumed religiouslike proportions in the minds of China’s elite, admired as a key to resurrecting a country that had fallen behind the West.
“China’s Nobel mania has been fueled by a sense of urgency,’’ said Cao Cong, an expert on China’s scientific endeavors and a fellow at the Levin Institute, a division of the State University of New York. “Only with accolades such as the Olympics and winning a Nobel Prize will China feel it can convince the world it has moved from the periphery to the center.’’
But as Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas Bequelin writes in Foreign Policy, China may be awarded the one prize that it does not want:
Liu is the most famous of countless Chinese government critics languishing in prison for peacefully expressing their views. He falls squarely into the Nobel Peace Prize tradition of honoring human rights activists who are calling for peaceful political reform. Kim Dae-jung, Lech Walesa, and Aung San Suu Kyi are but a few previous such winners.
If Liu were to win, the most positive effect would be a groundswell of interest in Charter 08 and Liu’s writings in China itself. Whereas the writings of dissidents have so far been limited to the relatively small circles of Chinese citizens who know how to circumvent Beijing’s extensive Internet censorship, the Nobel Prize would confer to Liu an instant notoriety that would make it impossible to prevent the mass diffusion of Charter 08 and Liu’s other writings.
As the Chinese leadership seemed to have feared when it decided to jail Liu, many among the larger Chinese public — including party and government officials — might recognize themselves in the propositions advanced by Charter 08.