To say that China’s reaction to one of its countrymen winning the Nobel Peace Prize was less than celebratory would be an understatement. After all, he does sit in a jail 300 miles outside of Beijing.

Beijing warned the decision could harm ties with Norway – where the awards are based – and summoned Oslo’s ambassador to make a formal protest.

Liu is serving 11 years for incitement to subvert state power after co-writing Charter 08, a call for democratic reforms in China. Human rights campaigners have complained of a broader drive against lawyers and activists recently.

“This is the happiest day in years … 1.3 billion Chinese should not live in an environment where human rights are being violated,” said Mo Zhixu, a friend of Liu’s and Charter 08 signatory. Li Hai, another signatory, added: “This is the best gift from the international community to the Chinese people. I hope we can now see some progress in the political system.”

China argues it has no dissidents; only people who break the laws. Today’s statement by foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu denounced Liu as a criminal and said his award was a “blasphemy to the peace prize”.

Officials in China would not allow Liu’s wife out of her home to speak to reporters after the news of the Nobel win. China also censored CNN and BBC coverage in Beijing this morning, as well as Internet news sites, on fears that they would mention the victory.

The President, last year’s winner of the award, praised Liu Xiaobo for his victory, adding that “We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has sought Liu’s release since his latest arrest in December 2008, continued the call in her statement:

“As this year’s recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo joins the pantheon of great leaders for non-violence, justice, and freedom throughout history.

“Liu Xiaobo is a champion for the best hopes of humankind, a courageous advocate for democracy and human rights in China, whose only crime was putting his political views into writing. His message of reform is an inspiration to the entire world. He and fellow activists deserve the attention and partnership of freedom-loving people everywhere.

“I continue to call for Liu Xiaobo’s immediate and unconditional release, and for the Chinese government to adhere to its own constitution and respect the rights of the Chinese people.”

Longtime Chinese democracy activist and organizer Matt Browner-Hamlin has much more.