It's the first time since 1935 that the award hasn't been handed to the recipient or a colleague. A single empty chair is Liu Xiaobo's representative at today's pageant at Oslo's city hall, which is being boycotted by China and 17 other countries. At the last minute, Serbia decided to send a delegate.
At today's ceremony, Nobel chief Thorbjoern Jagland placed a boxed medal and a blue, leather-bound book inscribed with Liu's initials on an empty chair while the crowd gave a standing ovation. "Although none of the committee's members has ever met Liu, we feel that we know him," Jagland told the crowd. "We have studied him closely over a long period of time."
President Barack Obama, last year's Peace Prize recipient, issued a statement in Washington saying Liu is "far more deserving of this award than I was."
For 54-year-old Liu, today is like any other day spent in a prison in northeast China, where he's serving an 11-year sentence for subversion. The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded him the prize in recognition of his more than 20 years lobbying for human rights and an end to China's one-party rule. His wife is under house arrest in Beijing, and at least 20 of the couple's activist colleagues have been detained across China today, the BBC reported.
Liu's wife told Reuters that her husband wants to dedicate the prize to the unknown number of Chinese activists who died when troops crushed their Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. At today's ceremony, Jagland acknowledged that request. "It is indeed a pleasure for us to fulfill his wish," he said.
Then the text of Liu's final court appeal from December 2009 was read aloud by the Norwegian actress and movie director Liv Ullmann. "I have no enemies, and no hatred," she quoted Liu as saying. "Whether as a person or as a writer, I [decided I] would lead a life of honesty, responsibility and dignity."
Meanwhile, Chinese state media have branded Liu a criminal traitor, and one newspaper today calls Oslo the "center of an evil cult."
"A farce that puts China on trial is under way in Oslo. ... A Chinese criminal named Liu Xiaobo is being honored today at a grand award ceremony," the Global Times, a Chinese tabloid, noted. "It's unimaginable that such a farce, the like of which is more commonly seen in cults, is being staged on the civilized continent of Europe."
Ahead of today's ceremony, Chinese censors had already clamped off local access to the BBC, CNN and Norway's state broadcaster NRK. For the past two months, since Liu's Nobel award was announced, they've blocked references to his name on China's version of Twitter and Facebook. And today they sought to crack down on ways clever bloggers might circumvent those rules -- by blocking references to the words "empty chair" and even "empty tool," "empty table" and "empty seat," The Daily Telegraph reported.
Human rights activists have taken to the streets in both Hong Kong and Oslo today in support of Liu and in protest of China's continued detention of him. A rare rally also broke out today in front of a United Nations office in Beijing.
Someone hung a red banner on the campus of Zhongnan University in China's Hunan province, congratulating Liu on his Peace Prize, the Telegraph reported. "Congratulations to Liu Xiaobo for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Thank you to the world for not ignoring the Chinese people's pursuit of democracy," it said. It's unclear how long the banner remained there, and whether it was later taken down by Chinese authorities.
The last time neither the Peace Prize winner nor any representative was able to attend the Oslo ceremony was in 1935, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Count von Ossietzky from accepting his award. He was in a concentration camp at the time and died three years later, never receiving the prize.