Today I received an email from DW, a dear friend in the UK, asking me whether the Confucius Prize was really the Chinese equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize.
DW hails originally from South Africa, and there has been much in the SA press about the 2015 Confucius Prize being awarded to Robert Mugabe, that wily old crocodile of a man who has clung to his position as President of Zimbabwe for the past 28 years; enriching himself and his family in the process and systematically wrecking Zimbabwe’s agriculture and economy for political ends. To many people, whether from southern Africa or not, the idea of Mugabe being given such a prize is reprehensible, and they think it is being given to him by the People’s Republic of China as a national prize, which they find appalling.
That is NOT so. The Chinese government has no association with the prize or the organisation which awards it, and they do not support it or acknowledge it in any way.
The Confucius Prize came into being when some members of a group called ‘The Association of Chinese Indigenous Arts’ was cheesed off by the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liu Xiaobo, and as a riposte came up with the idea of awarding a ‘Chinese’ prize. They say they chose to call the prize after the great Chinese philosopher Confucius because ‘it reflects his original idea of peace’
The Chinese Government Ministry of Culture said they had no official status to do such a thing, and promptly banned the prize. So the original organisers re-established themselves in Hong Kong calling themselves ‘China International Peace Research Centre’ and carried on awarding the prize annually. The prize winners have been chosen from a list of unlikely candidates; indeed the recipient of the first prize was a Taiwanese politician who didn’t even bother to claim it, and the Taiwanese government said the award was ‘amusing’.
An analogy would be for an obscure group of British or Americans giving themselves a fancy title and deciding to award a peace prize, followed by the media always refering to it as the UK or US equivalent of the Nobel Prize. In the far East – China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia etc – nobody takes it seriously; nor does Russia, even though the prize has been awarded to Putin – they all regard it as a bit of a joke. But the western media persists in calling it ‘China’s’ Nobel prize, and this can only be for one of two reasons. They always think the worst of China and/or they are too lazy to find the true facts about the prize. Perhaps it is a bit of both.