Global Times has long been criticized by Western mainstream media as being nothing more than a nationalist tabloid. So when it called for the establishment of a Confucius Peace Prize in mid-November, I immediately assumed it was simply a move to deflect from the Nobel Peace Prize, which has caused such controversy this year with dissident Liu Xiaobo being named the winner.
Those familiar with international news operations in China know that Global Times is often assigned articles by The People’s Daily or central government officials. The fact that Nobel coverage was officially countenanced was underscored by the fact that the paper published several analyses and commentaries, some of which were a whole page long. This depth of coverage would have been unimaginable in other media, as all Nobel-related news had to come from the official Xinhua News Agency.
So was the Confucius Peace Prize itself also given official backing? I discussed this topic with a Global Times editor who told me that the suggestion for such a prize had no official input, and so probably came up in discussions between scholars and the media.
The Confucius Peace Prize ceremony was held on December 9, a day before the Nobel Peace Prize and, as the venue was close to my place and the weather in Beijing was nice, I decided to drop by to take a look. The tiny venue was packed, but there were no scholars of note there. In fact the prize winner—KMT Honorary Chairman Lian Chan—wasn’t there either. A small girl received the prize on his behalf.
The fact that Lian wasn’t even able to make it shows what a rush it must have been to get this prize ready. With such a short amount of time between discussion in Global Times and the ceremony itself, the organizers had a massive task dealing with drawing up criteria for the prize, looking for candidates, deciding the winner, issuing the announcement and arranging a venue. Squeezing all this into such a short amount of time probably gives you a good idea about the quality of the prize…
Still, many foreign journalists believe the government had some kind of role in the prize, even though the Ministry of Culture has denied any relationship with it. Personally, I don’t believe in this Western conspiracy. To me, it seems more like a patriotic gesture from some Chinese scholars who showed a bit of opportunism by holding the ceremony just a day before the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded.
But if someone is hoping to get famous on the back of this award, they may find themselves disappointed. Aside from a few official media outlets, it was mostly ignored in China, and many of the elites I’ve spoken to about it are also dismissive of its value.
I suppose the best I can do is wish the organizers luck for next year, assuming they actually hold another contest. And next time, it might be a good idea to let the winner know in advance. I just hope this incident has given the wrong impression of China to Western media.