Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We're Gonna Go Make Our Own Peace Prize, With Blackjack, And Hookers

China is not going to be attending the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo. They are still a bit on the angry side over dissident Liu Xiaobo winning the Peace Prize.

The extent of their consternation is now seen in that they have announced- and awarded- the first installment of their own newly created Confucius Peace Prize.

This award cannot possibly be taken seriously.

The thing about an award for peace is that peace must be inherent in the spirit in which it is given, or at least, not clearly absent. The Confucius Peace Prize cannot be further from that. It is obvious why the prize was created- to stick it to both Norway and China's own dissidents. The Nobel Prize did not exactly have the most humble of origins either- Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, read his own obituary, saw himself characterized as a "merchant of death", and created the Prizes in his will as an attempt to redeem the family name- but it wasn't an active attempt to undermine anybody. China is doing just that, which really isn't very peaceful of them.

The other thing is, if you're going to do something like this, with this kind of motivation, you damn well better hit a home run on your first pick. You had better be fixing an egregious mistake with an obvious fix.

China's pick for their Confucius Peace Prize: Lien Chan, vice president of Taiwan, for, as the linked Time article puts it, "promoting peace between Taiwan and mainland China." Or, put another way, taking the position that Taiwan is part of China and working to prevent Taiwanese independence.

Lien's people, for their part, deny that the prize even exists. Not the kind of reaction you'd be hoping for if you're China.

China's other problem: The Nobel Prize is the Nobel Prize, and the Confucius Prize is not. There is no shortage of peace prizes out there, but the Nobel Prize is the only one that gets any airtime. It's the one with the history and the credibility, as some of the others don't have a great track record selecting recipients either. Let's take some of the better active ones and their most recent winners:

NIWANO PEACE PRIZE: Ela Bhatt of India. Bhatt is the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, an organization created in 1972 in response to the fact that Indian labor laws protected only those workers who had an employer. She is also a member of The Elders, a group of people selected to brainstorm solutions to a number of problems. Bhatt sits alongside names such as Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and honorary members Nelson Mandela and Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE: Vandana Shiva, also of India. Founded, in 1991, Navdanya, an organization revolving around farming, farmers' rights, and biodiversity. At last count, Navdanya has set up 54 seed banks across India and trained over half a million farmers.

RAMON MAGSAYSAY AWARD (for Peace and International Understanding): Yu Xiaogang of China. A previous winner of the 2006 Goldman Environmental Prize (another award you probably haven't heard of), Xiaogang has won both for essentially the same thing: his work in watershed management in China and analyzing the social impact of building dams. His work has caused the Chinese government to go from 'we are building a dam and you can't stop us' to 'we really want a dam, but let's consider what it'll do to the area first'. For China, that's huge.

SEOUL PEACE PRIZE: Jose Antonio Abreu of Venezuela. Abreu founded El Sistema, a music education program for impoverished Venezuelan children, an aim he's been at since 1975. Abreu began it as something of a juvenile rehab program, on the theory that as long as they're carrying instruments, they're not carrying guns. El Sistema has since processed over 300,000 students. (A note on the Seoul Prize: Abreu is the 10th recipient. Three of the previous nine, after winning Seouls, have gone on to win Nobels: Kofi Annan, Doctors Without Borders and Muhummad Yunus.)

INDIRA GANDHI PRIZE: Shiekh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh. Aside from her platform of gender equality in schools and working Bangladesh towards middle-income status by 2021, Hasina has been instrumental in bringing democracy to the country. Almost all of her family was killed in a coup in 1975. She fled to India until 1981, and spent the next three decades fighting military rule, rigged elections, politically motivated arrests, and assassination attempts before her election in 2008.

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