When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded last week to democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China,” it felt appropriate. Liu’s been writing and speaking about the need for greater respect for rights in China for decades, despite the risk – and harsh reality – of vilification and repeatedly jailing. Also, China is at the center of so many of the crucial issues and quandaries of our time: climate change, resource use and exploitation, labor, trade, green energy, statism, capitalism, democracy, representation, food security, rights, among others. So, why shouldn’t China be represented among the Nobel prizes given each year?
The Peace Prize sits at the top of the heap of Nobels. Now, Liu does, too, along with a reluctant Chinese government. Something I’d heard about Liu intrigued and puzzled me. “Liu Xiaobo, someone many of us admire, has said the Chinese should eat more meat, something many of us might not agree with,” a Chinese colleague said at last year’s UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. I tried to learn about the context in which Liu had spoken about Chinese meat consumption, but couldn’t find anything in English. However, when he won the Peace Prize I asked Brighter Green Associate Stella Zhou what she could find in Chinese.
Not much, as it happened, and even less now: the Chinese government had deleted the entire column about the Nobel prizes on every Website. But Stella gleaned a few morsels of information in two online forums. While there wasn’t anything about why Liu may have urged the Chinese to eat more meat, he apparently likes to eat meat quite a lot, but isn’t given much in prison, where he’s serving a decade-long term. Moreover, a Chinese netizen charged that Liu, through his advocacy, was stymying the average Chinese from eating more meat.
The rationale? China cannot be self-sufficient in meat production. The U.S. is China’s major trading partner and also an advocate of human rights. If eating meat is defined as a human right (as this netizen defines it), the Chinese government isn’t doing a good job of ensuring that its citizens have as much meat as they (or Liu) may want. If the U.S. cares about human rights, then it will supply China with more meat, despite Liu’s critique of the Chinese government! I know for sure U.S. livestock producers are keen to sell more meat and dairy products to China. But to do so in the name of human rights? Or to be encouraged by the awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize? Each possibility sticks in my throat. As does Liu’s incarceration.
Photo courtesy Amnesty International