Monday, November 1, 2010


Liu Xiaobo and the Nobel Peace Prize

I never heard of Liu Xiaobo, a leading Chinese dissident, who is serving an eleven year prison sentence for repeatedly trying to bring about human rights and democratization in China. It wasn’t until he won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize that I became aware of who he is. His eleven year prison sentence makes his story all that more remarkable.

In my classroom I have a signup sheet and my students can sign up to go to dinner with me on Friday evenings. I treat them to that dinner and about 11 or 12 of my students sign up. It was during one of those dinners that I mentioned Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Most of the students never heard of him but that didn’t surprise me. If you type his name in Chinese on a China internet search engine you won’t find much because the internet here is highly censured. My student had to research him on CNN’s website and various other western media internet outlets. They just typed his name in English and loads of articles came up on you guessed it, Liu Xiaobo.

Some of my students however think Liu Xiaobo won the prize due to western politics and they felt Obama won the same prize due to politics as well.Other students were angry at the treatment Liu Xiaobo’s wife has been receiving at the hands of the Police. She has been placed on house arrest ever sense her husband was awarded the prize. Most of my students feel that as more Chinese become aware of Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and his winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Eventually more pressure will be placed on the China Government for his release. That is what I think will happen as well.

China’s economy is growing in leaps and bounds but when it comes to human rights they are somewhat dwarfed behind the U.S. and other western nations. Communism has many draw backs and it can stifle free expression and open dialog especially in areas regarding the China Government’s policies. The China Officials don’t take well to harsh criticism especially when the criticism is aimed directly at the China Government. That is what led to Liu Xiaobo’s arrest. He was organizing a protest movement called ‘Charter 08’ which criticized China’s human rights violations and various other policies that are implemented by the China Government. That is why the Government here is calling him a dissident and they have him locked up with an 11 year sentence.

These kinds of arrests in China make me more appreciative of being born an American. We have freedom of speech in America, and we can criticize our Government policies without fear of reprisal. We can also organize protests in America against things we don’t agree with.

I showed my students videos in class that were made during the anti-war protests during the Vietnam War. My students generated so many questions about that era and they were disappointed when the classes ended. They were absolutely glued to the style of dress and the language that was being used by the protesters. None of my students were born when the Vietnam War was being fought but their interest in that era led to four or five term papers being turned in about the late 1960’s in America.

I tell my students the internet is a remarkable tool for disseminating information and not even China will be able to control the super information highway indefinitely. My students’ ability to speak and write in English opens many doors for them and one of the advantages it gives them is ways in bypassing the great internet wall of China.

I never told my students this but as technology continues to evolve throughout the world and people become more aware of China’s human rights violations through various media outlets. China will have no choice but to change for the better with the rest of the modernized Nations.

I quickly discovered when I came to China that there is a growing interest in Spirituality here. The majority of those spirituality seekers have an interest in Buddhism. They view America as a great Christian nation and they don’t have a problem with viewing all Americans as practicing the Christian faith. I tell my Students however that not all Americans are Christian. America is made up of all sorts of faiths including agnostics and atheists.

They always comment about the rich history behind our great American nation. I tell them that it’s our rich ethnic values that made our nation great. As long as our nation never loses sight of those values we will continue to be a beacon of light for the other nations of the world.

The values I grew up with in America, especially in the Pennsylvania coal region, is something I try my best to instill in my students. I tell my students that it’s not just the materialistic wealth of our nation that’s important but rather it’s the values that formed our nation that’s most important to us. Those values made our nation the greatest nation on earth. Those same values set us apart from the other nations of the world. Hopefully we as Americans will never lose sight of those values.

The Chinese are desperately seeking those American ideals but our values can never be implemented as government policy. They have to be instilled in the home and communicated through ones character for others to emulate and embrace.
China’s growing interest in Spirituality may lead them closer to finding a deeper meaning and purpose in their lives. Hopefully they will also discover ways in communicating that spirituality within their materialistic booming economy.The difficulty with spirituality these days, - how does the average person communicate it, within the hustle and bustle of our modern day society?

Many American’s and especially the Chinese are discarding the outdated dogmas of old and seeking a more contemporary approach to spirituality. I would not consider myself a Buddhist but the subject does intrigue me. I also enjoy discussing the matter with my students. I tell my students, their interest in Spirituality is not a new trend because a deeper meaning to life is what we humans have been searching for since humanities conception. We are not just human beings on a spiritual journey we are spiritual beings on a human journey.
Only time will tell.

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
Phone: (800) 272-6464
China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
Skype: thomas_f_oneill
Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

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1 comment:

  1. Thomas,
    Great column this month. Getting to work with so many bright, inquiring young minds must be a real inspiration for you.
    John Blair