Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

The Courage to Stand Alone

Wei Jingsheng ( 1997)

Dear Jiang Zemin and Li Peng:

Human rights have become a popular topic of conversation lately and even the Party line on the issue seems to have softened somewhat. It has declared that it intends to "study human rights theories and questions in order to deal with the peaceful evolution of hostile forces," and so on. These very words prove that the basic theories of the Communist Party as they currently exist do not cover the issue of human rights, and that people are no more than tools for production and struggle within its theoretical framework. Tools, naturally, do not have any rights. All they have is the "right" to be submissive and to be used. When "peaceful evolution of hostile forces" comes into the picture and the tools are no longer as docile and useful, then it becomes necessary to find out what to do to make them docile once again. At least, this is the stand and attitude revealed in your Party's newspaper. . . .

But what is the use of saying all this nonsense anyway? Let us take a serious look at human rights theories and practices, how they stand in relation to socialism, and in particular why Marxist societies often turn out to be political structures that do not respect human rights. These questions are matters of primary importance for modern China. They may seem very far removed from us, but actually they are very close to home; they might appear as merely abstract concepts, but they are, in fact, very concrete. The lack of human rights is the principal cause for many of the concrete problems confronting Chinese society. Human rights are also a problem about which fallacies and confusion abound. . . .

FALLACY: "Looking after the interests of the majority of people is our major point of departure on the issue of human rights."

On the surface, these words sound fine, but in fact there are often things that need to be examined beneath the surface. When talking about the rights that every person should enjoy, the claim that "the majority is the point of departure" is an act of deceptive sophistry and excuse-making. It occurs when faced with a situation which one cannot deny but in which one is unwilling to admit fault. This is because even if we talk about "gross violations of human rights," the phrase still refers to the violation of the rights belonging to every individual--in other words, the violation of an individual's internal affairs. It does not refer to a matter of contention that may or may not belong to a particular individual, and does not refer to public matters in the political, economic, or environmental domains. These are expressed by other concepts. Rather, it refers to rights that should belong to every individual. This has nothing to do with "the majority," and the majority has no right to curtail the basic right to freedom of even a small minority. Although parts of their concepts can be duplicated and may overlap, we cannot thus say that chemistry equals physics, that energy equals transport, that grain equals smelly night soil, and so on. This is the same sort of sophistry as using the majority as an excuse to confuse the issue of the human rights that belong to every individual.

Perhaps these words indicate that in our country's society, there exists a majority that enjoys rights and a small minority that does not enjoy basic rights. Who, then, is

____________________
Excerpt from The Courage to Stand Alone, translated by Kristina M. Torgeson ( New York: Viking Penguin, 1997). Translation copyright © 1997 by Wei Jingsheng. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.

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