The Establishment of Extensive Private Organizations: The Foremost Task for Human Rights Guarantees and Promoting Democracy

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

The Establishment of Extensive Private Organizations: The Foremost Task for Human Rights Guarantees and Promoting Democracy


Baiqiao, Tang, Xue, Yuan, Journal of International Affairs


A hundred years ago, the founding father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, raised the slogan of human rights and democracy, Nonetheless, up until the present day, human rights in China has not gone beyond the mere right of existence, and democracy is an even more remote idea. Since the founding of the Communist regime, human rights conditions in China, instead of improving, have deteriorated considerably. Even the word democracy is avoided by the authorities. With human rights discourse more difficult today, but also more necessary than ever, how can we improve human rights conditions and promote democracy in China? The answer is to set up extensive private organizations within the country

It is a basic experience in the history of democratic movements to resist the government with private forces by setting up extensive private organizations and finally reaching a society-wide compromise. The evolution of the democratic system in the United States, the establishment of Britain's governing system and the transition from Communist regimes to democracies in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are all, without exception, results of resistance by private organizations.

Precisely because of this, what an authoritarian state fears most are spontaneous private organizations. There have been in China several waves in the democratic movement during the 40-some years since the establishment of the Communist regime. Among them, particularly the Xidan (Democracy) Wall movement of 1979 and the spring 1989 movement were the most influential. However, they all ended in failure. The reasons are multidimensional and include China's peculiar historical and cultural factors. The most important one, nonetheless, is that there were no mass-based private organizations emerging during these movements. Even a social movement attracting worldwide attention such as that in 1989, regarded as the biggest Chinese democracy movement this century, had no organization with appeal and vitality. The most influential organization during that demonstrations was the Autonomous Union of Colleges and Universities, which was composed purely of students and which totally disappeared with the failure of the movement. The organizers of the spring 1989 uprising were simply students. One can infer then that the Chinese democratic movement lacks and therefore needs to set up private organizations extensively joined by a larger stratum of society.

I was first involved in the student movement in 1987. I say "involved" because, at the time, I did not have much understanding of authoritarianism and social backwardness in Chinese society. It was simply a sense of justice that urged me to participate in organizing the student movement. Though the movement soon ended in failure, and I became a thorn in the government's side and a target of persecution. Upon reflection, I regarded the backwardness of the authoritarian system as the origin of all problems, with the base expressions of its power as no guarantee of human rights. This, in turn, bore a direct relationship on the lack of private counter forces. To change the backward political system, establishing such private counter forces and private organizations should be the foremost task.

Following this line of thinking, I first carried out some activities on campuses to spread ideas of human rights, then helped set up some student groups independent of the-authorities, such as current affairs "salons" and political study seminars. Though the authorities were very unhappy about autonomous groups, they did not forcibly disband them. However, when the 1989 democratic movement broke out, these student organizations were sought out by more students as they grew in prominence. …

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