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Winner a no-show as China hands out its first peace prize

By Steven Jiang, CNN
Zeng Yuhan holds the Confucius Peace Prize trophy awarded to Lien Chan, Taiwan's former vice president, December 9, 2010.
Zeng Yuhan holds the Confucius Peace Prize trophy awarded to Lien Chan, Taiwan's former vice president, December 9, 2010.
  • A six-year-old girl accepted the award for Lien Chan, Taiwan's former vice president
  • A spokesman for Lein Chan said he did not "know anything about this prize"
  • Organizers of the Confucius Peace Prize said the prize was not created to rival the Nobel Peace Prize

Beijing (CNN) -- Holding back tears of nervousness, Zeng Yuhan accepted China's first peace prize Thursday at a hotel conference room in Beijing, a day before the Norwegian Nobel committee honors imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as this year's peace laureate in Oslo.

The six-year-old local girl received a trophy and a certificate in front of a sea of television cameras from the organizers of the Confucius Peace Prize, which also comes with an award of $15,000.

The ceremony's hosts said Zeng was chosen to accept the award on behalf of Lien Chan, the real winner and Taiwan's former vice president, because "children symbolize peace and future."

Members of the prize jury said Lien, who they deemed had made major contributions to bridging the gap between Taiwan and mainland China, could not attend the event for "reasons known to everyone" -- but apparently not to the recipient himself.

"We know who Confucius is, but don't know anything about this prize," Ting Yuan-chao, director of Lien's office in Taipei, told CNN earlier.

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The hour-long award ceremony and press conference appeared thrown together at the last minute, jarred by microphone malfunction, awkward moments of silence and egregious English interpretation errors.

None of these factors seemed to have deterred the organizers, who promised to make this an annual event. Brushing aside suggestions that their prize was meant to counter the Nobel award, the head of the jury insisted their focus to be promoting the ancient Chinese sage's philosophy.

"China is a great nation that has been influenced by the Confucian concept of peace for a long time," Tan Changliu, chairman of the prize committee, told CNN before the ceremony. "We want to promote world peace from an Eastern perspective."

"Europe is full of small countries that had fought each other for centuries," he added. "We don't want to see people who don't understand peace to ruin the concept."

Other members of the jury launched tirades against the United States, accusing it of destabilizing northeast Asia for staging war games in the region amid current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Tan declined to give details about his group -- other than stressing it is a non-government organization and the prize money came from an anonymous donor -- or how the five judges selected the nominees and the eventual winner.

Candidates for this year's Confucius prize included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Bill Gates and the Panchen Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist leader loyal to Beijing.

Of the eight nominees, only a Chinese poet, Qiao Damo, showed up and said it was a great honor to be chosen along with the other men.

China has responded furiously since the Nobel committee announced its decision on October 8. Officials have repeatedly called Liu -- currently serving an 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion" -- a common criminal and the award a Western plot against China.

A businessman first proposed a rival peace prize in a commentary on the November 17 edition of Global Times, an English-language newspaper published by the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily.

Echoing government spokesmen, Liu Zhiqin said that by awarding the prize to a criminal, the Nobel committee created 1.3 billion "dissidents" in China.

"We often stress the need to fight for the right to speak," he wrote. "China's civil society should consider setting up a 'Confucius Peace Prize'... to declare China's view on peace and human rights to the world."

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution to praise Liu Xiaobo, prompting strong condemnation from Beijing.

"We urge relevant U.S. lawmakers to realize their mistake, change their arrogant and unreasonable attitude and show respect for the Chinese people and national sovereignty," said Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman.

Back at the Confucius award ceremony, organizers refused to say if they will watch Friday's Nobel event.

Despite the perceived rivalry between the two peace prizes, they seem to have one important thing in common -- the absence of their recipients at this year's award ceremonies.