China’s Confucius Prize Announces Its Wacky 2012 Short List

China's alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize has announced its list of 2012 finalists. But who could be more deserving than last year's honoree, Vladimir Putin?

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David Gray / Reuters

Kong Qingdong, a descendant of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, stands in front of a painting depicting celebrities and world leaders during the Confucius Peace Prize ceremony in Beijing on Dec. 9, 2011

Two years ago, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee prepared to award the Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, an obscure mainland group launched its own peace-prize award — an honor that TIME called “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.” But rather than going quietly away after that incident, the Confucius Peace Prize has just gotten wackier, and this past Sunday, the China International Peace Research Center presented its eight finalists for the 2012 award. The list includes unlikely trailblazers of world peace such as Wang Dingguo, the only surviving woman to have taken part in Mao Zedong’s Long March during the Chinese civil war; Chinese rice expert Yuan Longping; and Gyaltsen Norbu, a 22-year-old who was controversially named by Beijing to be the 11th reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhism’s Panchen Lama. (Norbu has been nominated for the Confucius Peace Prize all three years of its existence; his rival for the Panchen Lama position, selected by the exiled Dalai Lama, hasn’t been seen since 1995 and is believed to be under detention.)

Rounding out the nominees are Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan. Chinese philosophy scholar Tang Yijie, author of Guo Xiang and Metaphysics in Wei and Jin Dynasties, has also been nominated.

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The Confucius Peace Prize serves to “uphold the Confucian concept of harmony, safeguard the Charter of the United Nations, practice the magnificent concept of the construction of a harmonious society as put forward by the Chinese government, and contribute to peaceful development and prosperity of humanity,” according to a report on It’s the brainchild of Peking University professor and staunch Chinese ultra-nationalist Kong Qingdong, a 73rd-generation offspring of philosopher Confucius himself. The 2010 prize was awarded to Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician, for his efforts to improve relationships between mainland China and Taiwan. But Lien himself was unaware of the prize until members of the media informed him that he’d won, and in any case he was unable to travel to Beijing to receive it; the prize ended up being handed to a “scared-looking girl.” Last year, the Confucius prize was awarded to then Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin, prompting international guffaws; it was handed to two Russian exchange students. (The Chinese government had distanced itself from both the award committee and the prize.)

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Kong, who earlier this year called Hong Kongers “dogs” and “thieves,” has not yet commented on the finalists on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, where he has more than 1.5 million followers. As of Tuesday, searches for the prize on Weibo were censored “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies.” The prize will be awarded on Dec. 9 in Beijing, one day ahead of the traditional date for the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo.