The Alfred Award

I’m sure by now everyone is aware of the latest Alfred Award winners. After all, it’s hard to not get excited about a Prize given out in honor of the guy who invented dynamite.

As least for me it is. But I’m easily excited. By things that explode.

But what particularly interests me and the people I work with is the fact that one of the winners this year was a Chinese guy. And yeah, I think pretty much everyone I work with dreams of one day winning the Alfred Award in chemistry or medicine, but it seems to have caused a bit of a stir over here that this particular guy won the one given out for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and that other thing.

By the way, if you think I’m just trying to be cute here, I assure you that this is not the case. Well, it’s not the only reason, anyway. No, the reason for the not-so-cleverly disguised phrasing is that the Chinese government really doesn’t like people talking about this. It’s not mentioned in any newspapers, if you mention it on your blog your blog gets blocked, and I heard if you even write the guy’s name in an email, your email gets deleted. And then you get deleted.

I’m just kidding about that last part. Seriously, Chinese government people who monitor the internet, I’m only joking around here, of course.

Please don’t hurt me.

But this whole issue really does bring to light a fundamental difference between China and the West. And I’m not just talking about chopsticks or delicious food here. Or their incredibly hard to learn language. Or their constant drive to better themselves. Or the fact that I should just get on with it.

Anyway…

What I’m talking about is a difference in philosophy regarding how to treat other countries. See, when China wants to do business with another country, they just do that. Business, I mean. They exchange goods and services for money, or whatever, and leave it at that. They don’t try to force their morals or belief system on the other country. Of course, America never ever does that either, so I guess we’re the same in that respect.

But while a lot of Chinese people aren’t happy with the government, they’re also not too happy with the West trying to tell the Chinese government what it can or can’t do. Look at it this way: suppose you decided to do business with someone, and then suddenly they start telling you what you can or can’t do with your sex life. I know that’s not a great analogy (I suck at analogies), but unless you’re a prostitute, the person you’re doing business with really doesn’t get much of a say in who you have sex with. Again, I’m not saying this is a good analogy, but in a way this really is how a lot of Chinese people see it. Internal problems are just that—internal. They really don’t want ignorant Westerners poking their noses into their private affairs and telling them what they can or can’t do.

[Alright Chinese government guys, I typed it just like you told me to. Can I go home now?]

Of course, as a Westerner I can see the West’s side of things too. I mean, the guy who won does seem like a pretty cool person. All he wants is personal freedom, democratic elections, and government accountability. Hell, he’d fit right in with America’s temperament today. And while he’s been fighting against the government for decades now, he’s always done so nonviolently.

Ok, so maybe he wouldn’t fit in so well in America.

Here’s another interesting thing: the guy in the cubicle next to me at work actually participated in that big square dance-off back in 1989. I was pretty amazed when he told me about it. He was a student at the time, and he was right there in the thick of it. He actually participated in one of the defining moments of his generation. I thought that was pretty damn cool. I asked him how he managed to not get arrested.

His answer: “Well, there were hundreds of thousands of us.”

Ah. Fair enough.

So I asked him what the worst thing about the Chinese government was. His answer: that he’s not free…to start his own newspaper.

Seriously? That’s it? That’s the worst thing about the oppressive dictatorship fascist evil communist government?

Apparently. And that’s pretty much why we haven’t seen another square dance-off in recent years. Because the fact is, while the government is indeed corrupt and controls the media, if people are willing to work hard and keep their heads down and not make a big fuss, they can still find the opportunity to make a pretty good life for themselves. And that’s pretty much what’s keeping people in check right now. It’s just not worth for most people it to throw your whole life away just so you can run your own newspaper.

When the award was first announced, I found plenty of English-language sites that had the story, which means that anyone who could read English could have found it as well. In fact, everyone in my lab was talking about it for a while…but mostly because one of the guys happened to have the same name as the prizewinner. Apparently they care, but they don’t care that much. They’d be way more interested if the winner had been in chemistry or medicine. Because again, their lives are good enough that it’s just not worth it to risk everything for some vague concepts like “democracy” and “press freedom”.

Huh. I checked just now, and while it wasn’t like this before, now all Google searches for the guy are blocked, and even his Wikipedia entry is inaccessible. So maybe I’m not being paranoid after all. Regardless, it really would be unfathomably stupid of me to just come right out and say that Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize when it’s ridiculously easy for me to get my meaning across without doing so directly.

Wait a minute.

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About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

5 Responses to The Alfred Award

  1. Trish C says:

    I live for Monday mornings when you new blog comes out. This one was well worth the wait!!!!

  2. Trish C says:

    I might add the mother of a political prisoner or Nobel prize winner.

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