Guess who is this year’s messenger of peace? Why it’s Vladimir Putin. In September, an obscure Chinese cultural organization revealed the finalists for the second annual Confucius Peace Prize, an award that suddenly popped out of nowhere last year after imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The first Confucius Peace Prize, which was ridiculed as a clumsy attempt to divert attention from the fact that the world’s most famous peace prize had just gone to a jailed Chinese dissident, went to Lien Chan, a veteran Taiwan politician. Taiwan’s former Vice President didn’t even know he had won, and in a very curious ceremony a couple days later, a confused-looking little girl picked up the award in his stead.
But it was only after this year’s finalists were announced that the Confucius Peace Prize got really wacky. First the Chinese Ministry of Culture said that, ahem, it had nothing to do with the award, even though the organizers—including a poet named Qiao Damo, who nominated himself as one of the 2010 finalists—implied it did. The ministry went on to disband the cultural organization that was sponsoring the prize. Some people assumed that meant the wannabe Nobel would quietly fade away.
Cue up another group of Chinese academics, including one of the former judges of the original prize, who said that they were setting up the Confucian World Peace Prize—with Ministry of Culture approval. Yes, that would be the same prize name, with the addition of the word “world.” The Confucian World Peace Prize would hold its award ceremony on December 9, its organizers said.
Then another dramatic turn. In October, some of the original organizers, despite the Ministry of Culture ban, set up the China International Peace Research Center based in Hong Kong, which is bound by different laws than mainland China. The Center, buoyed by funding from a pair of Chinese tea and alcohol companies, announced on November 13 that their 16 judges had winnowed down a finalist list that included Microsoft’s Bill Gates, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Germany’s Angela Merkel, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and a Tibetan monk favored by Beijing. In the end, nine of the 16 judges deemed Putin, who looks poised to finagle his way back to the presidency in Russia, the winner of this year’s prize. Why? Because his failed efforts to push NATO not to engage militarily in Libya were “outstanding in keeping world peace.”
It’s not clear whether Putin, who is supposed to receive his Confucian Peace Prize on December 9, even knows he has been honored in China. December 9 is one day before the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out. The Confucian Peace Prize is obviously intent on scooping the Norwegian accolade. The only question is whether the rival Confucian World Peace Prize will be naming its own choice in the coming weeks. Confucian confusion, indeed.