Chinese Foreign Ministry officials in Beijing and Oslo lodged protests. The agency's spokesman issued a stinging condemnation, branding Liu a criminal, warning Norway that relations would suffer and accusing the Nobel committee of undermining the prize's mission to promote international understanding.
"Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law," spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in the statement. "The Nobel committee's decision to award such a person the peace prize runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and also desecrates the prize."
Jonas Gahr Stoere, foreign minister of wealthy, oil-rich Norway, said any punishment would backfire. "I think that would be negative for China's reputation in the world, if they chose to do that," Stoere told National Broadcaster NRK.
In announcing the prize in the Norwegian capital Oslo, the Nobel committee issued a challenge to China to live up to responsibilities as the world's second-largest economy and a burgeoning diplomatic and military power.
"China cannot only demand to have political and economic power, without being exposed to the same kind of discussions as other superpowers have been," committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. He called Liu the "foremost symbol of Chinese human rights activists," adding: "So it was natural to give the prize only to him as a symbol of the whole Chinese society's wish for more democracy."
Liu is the first peace prize winner chosen while still in prison, although several laureates, including Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) and German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky (1935) were in custody. Still others, like Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov (1975) and Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa (1983), were prevented by their governments from going to Norway to accept the prize.
Liu's wife, prevented by police from mixing with the nearly 100 Chinese and foreign reporters outside her apartment, said by phone and messages that the award would give Liu encouragement. She hoped to go to Norway to collect the medal and its prize money of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.5 million), if he cannot.
"I think this prize doesn't only belong to Liu Xiaobo one person, but also for all the people in China who advocate democracy, freedom and peace and for all the prisoners of conscience in jail," Liu Xia told Hong Kong's Cable TV.
In a statement issued by the Washington-based group Freedom Now, she thanked former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, also a Nobel laureate, for nominating her husband.
Havel, who never won the prize but whose own human rights petition Charter 77 inspired Liu's tract Charter 08 and helped bring about the end of communist rule in then Czechoslovakia, said Liu "is exactly the kind of a committed citizen who deserves such an award."
Liu's Charter 08 called for greater freedoms and for the Communist Party to give way to gradual, democratic change. "The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer," Charter 08 says.
The government arrested Liu hours before the document's release in December 2008. It was the most programmatic in the hundreds of essays Liu wrote. Jailed for two years after the Tiananmen protests — when he helped persuade student protesters to leave the square before a military assault — and again for three years in the 1990s, Liu found a computer and the Internet at home on his release in 1999. "God's present to China," he called the Internet.
Thousands of Chinese — civil rights campaigners, professors and young professionals — signed on to Charter 08, which circulated by e-mail and on overseas Internet sites after being expunged from web pages in China.
The ability of Chinese to surmount censorship barriers using proxy servers and coded language kicked into high gear in the hours just before the Nobel announcement.
Excitement pulsed among students at Beijing Normal University, where Liu earned a degree in the '80s, and at Peking University. They passed word via the popular QQ.com instant messaging site.
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