Confucius Peace Prize will go on despite ridicule: organizer

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-2 20:08:03

Facing widespread criticism, the Confucius Peace Prize Committee that was born as a  "correction to the Nobel Peace Prize" has continuously faced claims that it is not credible. The founders argue that they are serious about promoting the "Chinese understanding" of peace.


The Confucius Peace Prize Organizing Committee holds a ceremony to pray for world peace at the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Beijing on April 18. Photo: Courtesy of the Confucius Peace Prize Organizing Committee

In a repeat of previous years, the sixth Confucius Peace Prize in China, an annual event organized by an NGO, has been the subject of criticism and ridicule after its latest recipient was announced.

This year, Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe since the 1980s, was voted the winner, beating nine other shortlisted candidates including South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Buddhist Master Hsing Yun from Taiwan.

Several foreign media outlets questioned the choice, saying that the organizers were paying tribute to a "war-monger" and "sadist" who has used "systematic violence and torture" to maintain his 35-year rule over the country.

When reports came that Mugabe would not collect his award, many domestic media outlets and netizens launched a new wave of criticism towards the prize committee, accusing it of copycatting, using the name of Confucius to make money, acting in a farcical manner and even damaging the international image of China.

The committee has since admitted its inadequate organizational and financial abilities. However, it refuted all the accusations of profit-seeking, saying that it is simply trying to give China its own peace prize to promote Chinese people's understanding of peace.

"We have reached a consensus of 'three noes', no investment, no earning profits, no clique," Liu Zhiqin, the initiator of the prize and senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

"The different opinions about the prize are understandable. But I think the criticisms will help us to grow, instead of frustrating us," he said, adding that they will not stop awarding the prize unless the government actually bans them from doing so.

Kong Qingdong, a professor from the Peking University and one of the 76 people on this year's panel of judges, responded more directly, calling critics of the prize "traitors" on his Weibo.

The award ceremony will be held in Beijing on December 9. Liu said they are still waiting for a reply from the Zimbabwean Embassy in China regarding Mugabe's acceptance of the prize.


'True face' of peace

The idea for a Confucius Peace Prize began with an opinion piece written by Liu Zhiqin, then the Chief Representative of the Beijing Branch of the Switzerland-based Zürcher Kantonal Bank. Titled "China needs to set up a Confucius Peace Prize," Liu wrote in November 2010 that China needs to establish its own prize to "declare China's view of peace and human rights to the world."

Liu Zhiqin said he had the idea following the controversy over the Nobel committee's decision to give the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced  to 11 years in prison for agitation activities to subvert the Chinese government in December 2009.

"I was cheered by the article and decided to put the theory into action," recalled Qiao Wei, a poet who writes under the pen name of Qiao Damo, chairman of the China International Peace Research Centre (CIPRC) which is registered in Hong Kong and now runs the Confucius Peace Prize.

Three weeks later on December 8, 2010, the first Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to Lien Chan, honorary chairman of the Kuomintang, Taiwan's ruling party, for his contribution to communication the across the straits.

"The Nobel Peace Prize gradually started showing more and more intense ideological coloring, quietly becoming a tool in the hands of Western countries to cause peaceful revolution against political regimes that did not meet their standards," the Confucius Peace Prize Committee said in a statement in March 2012.

The birth of Confucius Peace Prize is "in some sense a correction to Nobel Peace Prize, hoping in the near future to guide it to gradually see the true face of peace," they added.

"Our selection process has been open, justified and dependent. All the candidates and judges were announced in advance on the Internet," Qiao told the Global Times.

However, among the six laureates, only Master Yicheng actually collected his prize in person.

Liu claims that this reflects a defect in their election system. As a consultant to the prize committee, he said he "opposes awarding the prize to incumbent leaders."

But he supports the result. "Mugabe's reappointment came after democratic elections," Liu argued.

However, the US-based NGO Freedom House, which assesses countries'  political freedoms and civil liberties has argued in its annual "Freedom of the World" reports that Zimbabwe has not had a truly free election since its assessments of the country began in 1972.

Liu also claimed that Zimbabwe's severe economic problems were mostly caused by Western sanctions.

Yi Minghai, a prize judge and a professor with Communication University of China's school of politics and law, said "the absence of the winners doesn't mean that our criteria for peace is wrong."

There is no law forbidding social organizations or civilians establishing such a prize and many international festivals have grown from small days founded by some individuals, Yi told the Global Times.

The prize's trophy is a gold-plated statue of Confucius                Photo: Courtesy of the Confucius Peace Prize Organizing Committee

Financial woes

Qiao claims he has stable income from teaching at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. But to pay for the prize, their official website and running costs, which come to around 2 million yuan each year, the CIPRC have to hold other commercial activities. Qiao did not elaborate on the nature of these commercial activities.

The qualifications of the judges for the Confucius Peace Prize has also been questioned as quite a few judges are businessmen or lack strong educational background.

Liu said due to financial difficulties, the committee did accept some judges who have donated money to the organization. "But money cannot necessarily buy a membership. The person must be honest and hold similar values to the committee," Qiao said.

Ma Kaide, chairman of the board of Beijing Tongqilin Jewelry Company Limited and one of the judges, told the Global Times everyone who loves peace has right to make a judgment on peace. He claimed that he wasn't seeking reputation or profit by helping fund the prize.

According to Qiao, over the course of the year they collect nominations from the public and judges and the committee's core members will decide on around 10 candidates. In September, the judges will be asked to vote for a candidate. This year, Mugabe won with 36 votes out of 76, according to the committee. After the discussion of the final judging panel made up of 13 members, Mugabe was finally confirmed as the laureate.

According to their official website, the prize committee has eight criteria for candidates, including those institutes or individuals who have made contributions that year to national liberation and unity, and friendship between states, to disarmament, to the destruction of nuclear weapons, to resolving the risk of war, and to economic and social prosperity.

Both Qiao and Liu admitted the committee hasn't yet established a constitution to regulate how judges and candidates are chosen. The number of judges has grown to 76 this year from five in 2010. 

Liu said they wish to recruit some foreigners to the judging committee next year and fix the total number of judges at 99.

According to the list of judges, the judges are from various walks of life, including 16 professors; 23 company chairmen or general managers of private companies in various sectors such as real estate, agriculture, textiles; painters; calligraphers; and former officials. 

To Qiao, finance is a major challenge. At the end of 2012, he announced the cash prize given to the winner would be 9.45 million yuan ($1.49 million), but this has never been the case as the entrepreneur who promised to pay for this failed to keep their promise. 

In fact, the prize has been around 200,000 yuan, although this will be raised to half million yuan this year, according to the judging committee. 

"The government hasn't so far clarified their attitude towards the prize. Due to the ambiguous identity, many enterprises are reluctant to donate," he said. 

'Betrayed Western values'

Liu said he asked the prize organizers not to bring any trouble to the government or cause any diplomatic incidents. But this has been difficult.

During a press conference on October 28, the question of the Confucius Peace Prize was raised to Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang. Lu replied that "President Mugabe is a well-known leader of African national liberation and key promoter of African integration. He is also an old friend of China," Lu said. "We have also known that the prize was awarded by a civil organization registered in Hong Kong."

Qiao at first ran the prize through a cultural association affiliated to the Ministry of Culture. But following widespread criticism, the ministry issued a notice in September 2011 on its website that ordered the association to scrap the award and announced that the ministry had decided to close the association. This led to Qiao setting up the CIPRC in Hong Kong.

Public opinion, however, was mixed.

Ma Liming, a senior critic, said in an commentary on that "the Confucius Peace Prize has soured. It represents an outdated and naïve world outlook, carrying some kind of populism. Such thing is hurting our country. I think, such a farce needs to be ended."

Another critic Zhang Chuncheng said different groups of people have different view towards peace. "The opposition the prize received is because it has severely betrayed Western mainstream values," Zhang said in a commentary published on his blog.

Citing Tu Youyou, who he claimed was little-known in China until she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her part in developing an anti-malarial drug, Zhang said Chinese find it easy to recognize such achievements when they are acknowledged by the foreigners.

Yuan Lipin contributed to this story

Newspaper headline: War over peace

Posted in: In-Depth

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