Liu Xiaobo is Awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

Liu Xiaobo, an irrepressible, chain-smoking Chinese dissident imprisoned last year for subversion, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday for helping to spearhead a campaign for more freedom in China.

In a statement, the Nobel Committee said Liu, 54, deserved the prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

Analysts said the honor was aimed in part at increasing pressure on China to ease its crackdown on religious and political activists. But China's government told reporters the committee had violated its own principles by giving the award to a "criminal."

With just a day until the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, the usual whirl of speculation over the winner is in full force, with many human rights advocates contending that an imprisoned Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, has emerged as the favorite.

If selected, Mr. Liu, a former literature professor who has spent the last 20 years cycling in and out of Chinese jails for championing democratic reform, would be the first Chinese citizen to win the prize. The prospect has clearly alarmed Beijing, so much so that the Nobel Institute’s director said last week that a senior Chinese official had warned him such a decision would “pull the wrong strings in relations between Norway and China.”

After imprisoned Chinese scholar Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize last week, this joke began to make the rounds of Chinese-language Twitter users: "I don't know who this Mr. Liu is, but as a Chinese, I'm very happy for a fellow citizen to win the Nobel Prize. He must be one of our great party members, a great official ... and a great leader who does great deeds for his people."

Liu, or course, is neither an official nor a Communist Party member. He is a literary critic and a leader of the 1989 demonstrations in Beijing that were crushed by the Chinese military. In 2008 he co-authored Charter 08, a manifesto calling for broad political reforms in China. In the eyes of the Chinese government, he is a criminal, and he is now serving an 11-year sentence at a prison in northeast China for "inciting subversion of state power" in connection with Charter 08 and other essays he wrote.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". The laureate, a little-known figure inside China due to official censorship, is a veteran of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and co-author of the Charter 08 manifesto for which he was sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese authorities on 25 December 2009. Liu was chosen over a record number of nominations – more than 200 – to receive the award.

Intellectuals and politicians from the international community praised the decision, although the Chinese government bitterly attacked the decision. Heavy official censorship was applied on the Internet, on television and in the print media inside China following the announcement. The Chinese government denounced the award as "blasphemy", and summoned the Norwegian ambassador in Beijing "to officially share their opinion, their disagreement and their protest." Chinese citizens who attempted to celebrate were arrested. Liu's wife was put under house arrest before the Nobel Committee's decision was announced. In November, the Chinese Embassy in Oslo circulated a Note verbale to all other foreign diplomatic missions in Oslo requesting that their countries do not attend the award ceremony on 10 December.

Liu is the first Chinese person (excluding the 14th Dalai Lama, a refugee) to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the first to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China (several Chinese scientists had previously received Nobel Prizes for work done outside the country, and Chinese-born French national Gao Xingjian was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2000). Liu is also the third person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison or detention, after Germany's Carl von Ossietzky (1935) and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi (1991).