In a new exhibit bound to provoke Chinese authorities, the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo is once again honouring jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. That prize froze diplomatic relations between Norway and China that Norwegian officials otherwise have been trying to thaw.
The Nobel exhibit is unlikely to contribute to the thaw, and highlights how the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the Peace Center that it backs and the Norwegian Nobel Committee that chooses Peace Prize winners all operate independently of the Norwegian government. While the government recently went so far as to controversially refuse to meet another Peace Prize winner who challenges Chinese authority, in an effort to appease the Chinese, Nobel officials clearly feel no need for appeasement whatsoever.
Their exhibit, due to open on Saturday, is tied to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Chinese student uprising at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The pro-democracy demonstration ended in a massacre carried out by Chinese soldiers. The Nobel Peace Center wants to remind Norwegians and visitors to Oslo who often wander by the Peace Center located on the prominent City Hall Plaza of both Tiananmen Square and Liu. The center attracted around 250,000 visitors last year.
The exhibit will feature the actual “empty chair” where the imprisoned Liu was supposed to sit, next to Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on December 10, 2010. “Liu Xiaobo couldn’t come to Oslo to receive his Peace Prize in 2010,” the Nobel Peace Center wrote in a press release on Wednesday, noting that the chair remained empty. “In the aftermath of the ceremony, Chinese authorities censored the expression ’empty chair’ from the Chinese Internet.”
The Peace Center has made the empty chair is “a central part of the exhibit,” adding that visitors will be able to take photos of themselves with the empty chair and post them on social media, using #FreeLiu on Instagram and Twitter, and thus supporting the campaign to free Liu Xiaobo.”
Chinese authorities consider Liu a criminal and he continues to languish in prison, nearly four years after he won the Peace Prize for his advocacy of human rights in China. Many other Peace Prize winners have been jailed, from Carl von Ossietzky during Hitler’s rule in Nazi Germany to Nelson Mandela during the apartheid regime in South Africa and Aung San Suu Kyi during the military regime in Burma. Liu is the only Peace Prize winner still in prison, and the Peace Center mounted its exhibit, called 2010 Liu Xiaobo, to tell his story.
“Author and dissident Liu Xiaobo is one of our time’s foremost symbols of the fight for human rights and freedom of expression,” said Liv Astrid Sverdrup, exhibit chief at the Nobel Peace Center. “Therefore it’s important for us to tell his story.”
The exhibit will be officially opened by the director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, on June 4th, to also honor those killed at Tiananmen Square on the orders of an earlier generation of Chinese authorities. It will run until September 14.