The top stories among Chinese communities in Northeast Asia in 2010 can be summarized in two words: Peace and Conflict.
2010 Nobel Peace Prize
On the Peace side, our top news was of Chinese citizen Liu Xiaobo being awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Liu Xiaobo is an intellectual who has advocated for political reforms in China since 1989. His most recent arrest was in June 2009 and Liu was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment under the charge of “inciting subversion of state power” after Charter 08, a proposal for constitutional reform, was published.
While the Chinese government tried to censor information related to the Peace Prize, netizens still managed to circulate the news through the use of microblogs and creative subtle expression in other spaces. As the Norwegian Nobel Committee explained, the 2010 Peace Prize is also dedicated to Chinese human rights activists who have risked their lives for social justice and peaceful political reform in China, such as the citizen investigator of tofu dreg school buildings Tan Zuoren, consumer activist and father of a victim of melamine-addled milk formula Zhao Lianhai, AIDS activists such as Tian Xi, democracy fighters such as Liu Xianbin and many more were also winners of this year's Peace Prize. Which is why most concerned citizens not only saw the news as encouragement toward their peaceful struggle for social and political changes but also found themselves overwhelmed with joy.
Click to see a larger version of the China ‘Bloody Map’
While the Chinese government saw the Nobel Peace Prize as a western conspiracy against China, in 2010 it became increasingly necessary for the state to address internal social conflicts which are the real sources of political instability. Forced demolitions and illegal land acquisition has resulted in many mass incidents across the country. The riot in Guangxi in October is just one typical incident. The country was horrified to see ordinary people have to resort to maiming themselves just in order to bring public attention to their suffering.
Yet, it also became clearer that public attention does not necessarily mean one can escape state violence. Even with world media's cameras zoomed in on Ai Weiwei, the government still had him under house arrest and his studio in Shanghai will soon be torn down.
We learned that for those whose father happens to be a ‘Li Gang’, you can even run over and kill a school girl with your car and not have to go to jail. Many accidents and disasters this year continued to be man-made. The abuse of power by government and the privileged brought endless human suffering and the lack of planning elevated the adverse effects of disaster, such as in the case of the Zhouqu Landslide. The tragic fire in Shanghai was yet another tragic reminder to the Chinese people that human values should come first in development.
The territorial conflict over the Diaoyu Islands intensified over the detention of a Chinese fishing captain. In China, the first battle was a war of words, followed by anti-Japanese demonstrations in major cities, followed then by the restriction on exports of rare earths.
The verbal conflict between China and Japan was just a minor issue when compared with the actual open fire of artillery rockets by the North Korean military at a South Korean Island near the end of November. Following the Cheonan sinking incident in May, Chinese netizens began questioning whether or not China should continue to support the Kim Dynasty in North Korea. The WikiLeaks cables further exposed that even Chinese government officials are reflecting upon official policy towards North Korea.
Communication and rational exchange is the key to peaceful resolution of both internal and external conflicts, but 2010 has shown us this is much easier said than done. Instead of encouraging free flow of information for public deliberation, the Chinese government remained intent on maintaining social stability through the blocking of information. In early 2010, the government unleashed extensive censorship mechanisms over the Internet and mobile devices.
In January, Google made a public statement stating that it had been the victim of hacking efforts. Finally in March, Google decided to migrate its mainland China search engine to Hong Kong. In order to show their support for Google for upholding its “do no evil” principle, some netizens decided to deliver flowers to Google's offices in China. However, many found the company's cyber attack accusation against an ordinary technology school incredible.
Aside from further censorship mechanisms such as real name registration, netizens continued to face political and legal harassment. Many netizens were interrogated by national security police simply over criticism of certain government policies, even the handling of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. Recently, a Twitter user was sentenced to one year in labor re-education camp for retweeting someone else's bit of satire.
In spite of such harassment, Chinese netizens have refused to shut up and continue to criticize the government through humor and, even, public streaking.
Taiwan and Hong Kong
Under a relatively democratic system and free speech environment, civil society in Taiwan and Hong Kong were active in putting forward a social and political agenda through online media. In Taiwan, environmental groups and netizens joined forces in challenging the development of petrochemical industry and in favor of the preservation of wetlands. Instead of pursuing surplus GDP growth through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), many have begun to explore alternative development models and could also be seen protesting against the destruction of agricultural land for the construction of science parks.
In Hong Kong, where local citizens are still struggling for universal suffrage, this year's 5-district referendum movement was one of the city's landmark attempts. While the central government's presence continues to grow stronger, civil society also continues to commemorate the June 4 incident and celebrated the Nobel Peace Prize both in person in Oslo as well as at home.