Confucius rolled in his grave yesterday as the media trainwreck surrounding the peace prize given in his name culminated for the year with a quiet ceremony honouring this year's winner, Russian prime minister (and soon-to-be president) Vladimir Putin.
Two female Russian students on an exchange programme at the Beijing Language and Culture University accepted a statue of the Zhou Dynasty sage on behalf of Putin in a surreal echo of the peace prize's inaugural ceremony last year.
Lien Chan (连战), honorary chairman of the Kuomintang, was the embarrassed winner of the the first ever Confucius Peace Prize. He did not attend the award ceremony, so a little girl was selected by organisers to accept the award in his place.
In response to media enquiries on the award, Putin spokesperson Dmitri S Peskov, had, like Lien Chan, earlier plead ignorance, saying they only heard about the award through the press.
Putin, who recently led the United Russia party to its worst ever showing at the polls, beat seven other nominees -- Gyaltsen Norbu (the "Chinese Panchen Lama"), Bill Gates, South African President Jacob Zuma, former UN chief Kofi Annan, Yuan Longping, a Chinese agricultural scientist known as the "father of hybrid rice", German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Taiwanese politician James Soong (宋楚瑜) -- to clinch the highly-uncoveted title.
Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize went ahead with this year's awards against the wishes of the Ministry of Culture.
Shortly after the ministry ordered for the group to be shut down, saying they had never been given official permission to run the awards, a rival group of professors from Tsinghua University, Peking University and Beijing Normal University, emerged to continue the award under a new name. Undeterred, the original masterminds of the award took a flight down to Hong Kong and set up a new organisation called China International Peace Research Centre before quickly announcing this year's winner.
Kong Qingdong (孔庆东), the outspoken and controversial professor from the Peking University, was one of the award's judges this year. Himself a 73rd generation descendant of Confucius, Kong watched proceedings at yesterday's event as a representative of the ancient philosopher, and served as spokesperson for organisers at the press conference.
Organiser Qiao Damo, the head of the China International Peace Research Center who nominated himself for last year's inaugural award, told AP's Alexa Olesen in a phone interview that he hoped the Russian exchange students would some day be able to pass Putin his award, either on his next trip to Beijing or back home in Moscow. He gave the names of the students as Katya and Maria but was unsure of their surnames, reported Olesen.
Qiao also took the opportunity to slam the Nobel Committee for "drifting further and further away from the concept of peace" as well as Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo for "humiliating his motherland".
Meanwhile, a group of five Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams have urged China to release Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subverting state power.
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