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Political intrigue confounds a wise man’s inspiration in China

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BEIJING » When the Nobel Prize committee announced last year that it was giving its coveted Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Chinese dissident writer, a group of patriotic Chinese came up with a rejoinder: They would offer up their own international award, called the Confucius Peace Prize.

Now, discord within China may have put the future of that prize in jeopardy.

The inaugural award was given out last December to a Taiwanese politician who had never heard of it and did not show up to accept it. That did not deter the organizers, who late last month announced their eight nominees for this year, including Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. But a posting appeared on the website of the Ministry of Culture last Tuesday saying that the prize would be canceled and that the group offering it would be disbanded.

That has drawn cries of outrage from the organizers, who say they are the victims of political intrigue.

A man who calls himself the prize’s founder, Liu Haofeng, said in a telephone interview Friday that another group with "rich and powerful men" who had the support of the Culture Ministry were trying to muscle in on his prize. That rival group wants to offer a Confucius World Peace Prize and is trying to force Liu and his comrades to abandon their prize, Liu said.

"The ministry supports the World Peace Prize, but my Confucius Peace Prize is the first and only," Liu said.

Last December, the awarding of the first Confucius prize drew heavy coverage from foreign and Chinese journalists, but no one could pinpoint the exact relationship between the organizers and Culture Ministry. Liu said that he had tried to get the ministry’s support last year, but that the process was "too difficult." The group went ahead with the ceremony Dec. 9.

This year, he said, the organizers did not bother trying to contact the ministry, despite the fact that the group has a loose affiliation with the ministry: It calls itself the Traditional Culture Protection Department under the Association of Chinese Indigenous Arts, which is registered with the Culture Ministry.

On Sept. 19, the ministry ordered the so-called protection department to disband and not to organize any activities under the auspices of the Association of Chinese Indigenous Arts. The order said that the department had held a news conference Sept. 17 on the second Confucius Peace Prize without official approval, and that the group had improperly used the ministry’s name and violated ministry rules. The order was posted on the ministry’s website last Tuesday.

One of the prize organizers and a friend of Liu, Wang Shenggui, was suspended from his job as vice president of the indigenous arts association, Wang said.

The entire fiasco came about after some of the other organizers on the committee for last year’s prize joined the rival group, the China Foundation for the Development of Social Culture, Wang said. The group then decided to start the Confucius World Peace Prize. One of group’s associate directors, Tan Changliu, was chairman of the original prize committee last year.

"They are trying to have a monopoly on Confucius prizes," Wang said.

Jiang Ye, the deputy general secretary of the well-connected rival group, said the original prize was illegal because it had not been authorized by the Culture Ministry. "They arbitrarily held the first award, which was a total failure," he said, adding that security officers are now watching the organizers.

Jiang also said the original prize should not have been organized to rebut the Nobel committee’s honoring of Liu Xiaobo. "This is not the attitude a great nation like China should have, and it is not the wisdom that Confucius represents," he said.

A spokesman for the Culture Ministry hung up the telephone when asked about the dispute.

Both Liu and Wang said they still planned to award a second Confucius Peace Prize on Dec. 9. Candidates for this year’s prize include Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor; Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president; Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations; Yuan Longping, a Chinese scientist; and a Tibetan boy named by Chinese officials as the Panchen Lama after the abduction of a candidate supported by the exiled Dalai Lama.

The first Confucius Peace Prize was awarded last December to Lien Chan, a former chief of the Kuomintang in Taiwan. Contacted on Dec. 8 about winning the prize, which came with a $15,000 cash award, a spokesperson at Lien’s office said: "Regarding this event, our answer is ‘no comment,’ because we know nothing about it. Nobody has ever contacted us on this issue, and we only have secondhand information from journalists."

At the ceremony the next day, a young girl who apparently had no connection to Lien accepted the award.

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