Human Rights, Democracy and China

By Qing, Liu; Xue, Yuan | Journal of International Affairs, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Human Rights, Democracy and China


Qing, Liu, Xue, Yuan, Journal of International Affairs


The issue of human rights and democracy has perplexed China for more than a hundred years. The fact that this issue has not died out, but instead has become even more conspicuous with the passage of time indicates its bearing on China's development and foundation. Broadly speaking, there are two attitudes in China towards human rights and democracy. One is to view human rights as a product of Western culture, a value system that the West wants to impose on China which is not suitable to Chinese sentiments (their guozing). The other attitude regards human rights and democracy as a better social system for safeguarding human dignity and interests and also a way for China to avoid its past road of pain and suffering.

The Chinese government is the main advocate of the concept that human rights and democracy do not suit Chinese conditions. There are those among the common people who also agree with and support this belief. It is precisely because support exists among the people for this of official position that human rights and democracy have remained a difficult issue for China for so long. Even in the international arena, among certain figures in democratic countries and elsewhere, human rights and democracy are regarded as products of Western religions and western culture and are considered difficult to establish in a country which is officially atheist.

Cultural arguments aside, a main confounded theme implicitly repeated by the Chinese government in recent years is the argument which places mere existence (i.e., the right to live) and economic development over human rights and democracy and insists that the former necessitates sacrificing the latter. Furthermore, the Chinese government furiously reproaches criticisms and pressure coming from the international community, claiming it constitutes interference in China's domestic affairs.

China today is faced with the above problems in its struggle for human rights and democracy. Like many ordinary people in China in various circles and strata, I belong to the group that advocates and earnestly applies the viewpoint that China should practice democracy and human rights. We insist on this for two reasons. On the one hand, we believe that a system of human rights and democracy can give expression to human dignity and worth and can enable China to avoid the kind of catastrophes it has suffered in the past, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. On the other hand, our views are such because the official policy presented by the Chinese government is specious and unconvincing. It is a policy rendering transparent the intentions of the ruling clique to stay in power with extremely selfish rhetoric lacking any wisdom.

Chinese culture, though, is of course different from Western culture and religion . The fact that Western culture and religion is favorable to the establishment and development of human rights and democracy is proven by history and world events today. However, it is also proven that human rights and democracy do not grow only in the West. In Taiwan, where the culture and people are the same as those of mainland China, a system of human rights and democracy has been established. There are other similar cases in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea. This logic applies to individuals too. Few of the Chinese striving for human rights and democracy have been nurtured in Western culture. However, most of them have consequently experienced forced education, brainwashing, repeated imprisonment and ruthless persecution by the Chinese government.

Actually, the principle is very simple. There is no more authoritative truth than the truth of human nature, which in turn generally maintains human dignity and worth. Compared to the authoritarian system, the system of human rights and democracy is unquestionably closer to such a view of human nature. This is clear in any culture when measured with a spiritual and social-values yardstick. …

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