The Nobel Peace Prize was placed Friday on an empty chair in Oslo's city hall, creating a potent new symbol of the struggle for human rights and political reform in China.

BEIJING — The Nobel Peace Prize was placed Friday on an empty chair in Oslo's city hall, creating a potent new symbol of the struggle for human rights and political reform in China.

Laureate Liu Xiaobo would have been sitting in that chair, were he not locked away in an obscure prison in northeastern China.

Liu, a poet and essayist, is serving an 11-year sentence for penning a manifesto calling for the end of one-party rule and greater freedoms in China. He has not been seen publicly since May.

An enraged Chinese government dismissed the prize as an "anti-China farce" honoring a "criminal," and successfully lobbied 18 countries to join its boycott of the ceremony. Chinese censors blocked international television and websites carrying news of the event.

The prize became a dividing line between two distinct visions of international relations.

On one side is the Nobel organization, with its long-standing position that human rights are universal values.

The other side is exemplified by China, where the government is fostering economic growth without a corresponding possibility of freedom. On Friday, China was joined in its boycott by two kinds of allies: small countries in need of Chinese business and, in far greater number, nations that also bridle at foreign criticism of their human rights practices. This second group includes many countries rich in natural resources and prepared to turn a blind eye to one another's domestic affairs, no matter how unsavory.

In imprisoning a Nobel laureate, China faces potentially the most embarrassing turn of events since 1989, when the world recoiled at the carnage on Tiananmen Square.

The last time a government blocked the recipient and his representatives from accepting the prize was in 1936, and the country was Nazi Germany.

That comparison, like the awarding of the prize to Liu, infuriates Chinese officials. In honoring Liu, government spokespeople and state media argue, the Nobel committee is an arm of conspiracy meant to weaken and embarrass China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing this week that attempts to use the Nobel to pressure China or stop its development would fail.

"The Nobel Prize committee must admit that they are the minority, that China and the vast majority of countries and people are against their practices," Jiang said.

Liu, 54, is a bookish literature professor, poet and essayist who first rose to prominence when he rushed home from the United States to participate in the demonstrations on Tiananmen Square. He joined hunger strikers camped out on the square, and later, as tanks roared into the capital, convinced some of the students to flee. Liu's cool head and persuasive entreaties are credited with saving some of the students' lives.

From that time, the government branded Liu a subversive. His writings were unwelcome in China, and he served multiple stints in prisons and labor camps.