Are Human Rights a Zichan Jieji Kouhao (bourgeois slogan) in China?

POST WRITTEN BY: Emily Borich ’14

For most of the post-1949 period human rights has been a taboo subject in domestic political discourse and labeled a bourgeois slogan (zichan jieji kouhao) that was inappropriate and irrelevant for a socialist society. However, around 1948 China took an active role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and voted in favor of its adoption. Years later, after the end of the democracy movement (1989), the Chinese government proudly proclaimed in 1991 that,

[s]ince the very day of its founding, the Communist Party has been holding high the banner of democracy and human rights. [1]

China, however, has yet to provide proof of its sincerity. In 2013, the world saw an increasing number of Chinese crackdowns on prominent rights activists. Now, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is calling on Beijing to implement pledges it made to the U.N. Human Rights Council and release those imprisoned or detained for peaceful protest. This came right after China was granted a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in November 2013 for stating they were committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Chinese people.

In 2014 alone, China has convicted two anti-graft campaigners and sentenced a lawyer, Xu Zhiyong to four (4) years in prison after he campaigned for the rights of children from rural areas to be educated in cities. These are only two examples aside from the trials of seven members of the New Citizens’ Movement, not to mention the human rights violations themselves. For example, even if campaigners are given trials, the trials may fail to meet international standards and result in capital punishment. Amnesty International reports that

an estimated 500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial, and millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances.

It is hard for anyone in the world to deny that children have a right to a proper education, one of the main platforms of Zhiyong. Not only are children being denied this right but also people like Zhiyong are being imprisoned for promoting it, compiling violation on violation. However, these are just some of the many human rights violations that are taking place in the East, proving that commitments to the international community can be ignored in the face of internal policies, which are also to be respected by the international community. The question becomes when will this rise to the level of a gross human rights violation in which action will need to be taken on the part of the international community? If the Tiananmen Square tragedy was not enough then what will be?

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[1] Information Office of the State Council of The People of Republic of China, Human Rights in China Ch. 2 (Nov. 1991). See also Guo Shan, China’s Role in Human Rights Field, Beijing Review (Feb. 9, 1987); Marina Svensson, Debating Human Rights in China: A Conceptual and Political History (2002).

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