Human rights violation in China

Academic Paper, 2020

17 Pages




Understanding the discourse of Human Rights in China

Exemption from International accountability

Incidents of human rights violations




The word quanli which has come to be standard chinese translation for “rights” was first used in mid-1860s. The “human rights” are known as renquan in chinese language.1 The founding of Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 was a milestone towards human rights principle. The evolving of the concept of rights continued till 1930s but post 1949 human rights has been a taboo subject and labelled as bourgeois slogan that was inappropriate and irrelevant for a socialist society. After the death of Mao Zehdong there is acceptance of human rights. The 1978- 1979 witnessed democracy wall movement in china which people argued the importance of human rights. In 1989, another upsurge takes place advocating democracy and human rights across china centering on Tianemen square. The brutal suppression of this movement led to condemnation of china in response to this chinese government published first white paper on human rights.2 The 1990s saw an upsurge of debate as well as numerous academic debate concerning human rights between china and other states. The concept of human rights was not imposed on china by outsiders but taken up by the people of china itself. Although the idea of rights arrived from the west, they were quite convinced that bestowing political rights on chinese people would help to bring about transformation in the state. At the international level, the engagement with United Nations (UN) began in 1971 when its membership was transferred from the Taiwan based Republic of china to people’s Republic of China (PRC) based in Bejing. The China joined United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a full member in 1982.3 China signed and ratified various human rights in the 1980s including convention on race discrimination, discrimination against women, apartheid, refugees and genocide. It also contributed to drafting of the UN Convention on Torture before becoming a party in 1988. The China was moving towards a society with rights but is it really true to its words well the practice doesn’t say so the incident of Tiananmen square where images of troops gunning down civilians can be seen which sparked controversy in international society after this incident the sub-commission of the Human Rights body adopted a resolution on the situation of china it was the first time a permanent member of Security Council has been targeted by criticising its domestic human rights record. One of the principle that china follows brought after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 the china’s leader invoked state’s sovereignty and sovereign equality as a protection against foreign attacks.4 China invoked its sovereignty to justify its actions in 1989 that the use of force was within sovereignty and necessary to prevent rebellion. There are various features to china’s conception of human rights .The chinese discourse being a socialist state always preferred economic and social rights above political rights. In its white paper it asserted that the right to subsistence is the most important human right. They see human rights as a noble goal to be pursued by the state rather than a binding set of instrument. There focus is based on the collective rights vested in people and the state. The public order must be maintained in order that any right available which includes duties also to be respected. Despite having all the mechanism of implementation of human rights there are gross Human rights violations dating back to history and until now, we will look into these matters in the further paper.

Understanding the discourse of Human Rights in China

The evolution of human rights from the time of Confucian philosophy to the modern day world saw a lot of changes. It took until late 1970s that china undertook the international system. By the time of Mao’s death china expanded its relationship with international society. Unwilling to become a member of UN CHR takes up the status of the observer in 1979 and then finally became a member in 1982. The four constitution i.e. 1954,1975,1978 & 1982 contained a single chapter which stipulates rights of chinese citizens acknowledged the importance of International Human Rights treaties such as UDHR, CRC etc.5

Government policy of Human Right in china

First, although some and most rights are universally valued at least to some extent when started a high level of abstraction their implementation depends upon the local circumstances.

Second, while rights may be interdependent they must be prioritized and international human rights community inappropriately privilege civil and political rights over other rights, including economic, cultural as well as collective right . In china under current level of economic development subsistence is the most important fundamental right.

Third, the perception of international human right regime assumes a liberal democratic framework and emphasize individual autonomy.

Fourth, international human rights and ability of individuals to raise claims based on international community is limited by sovereignty.

Fifth, other states often use human rights as an excuse for strong arm politics and to interfere in china’s domestic affairs. For example US linkage of human rights to Most Favoured Nation (MFN) access to WTO, intellectual property rights it threatens to deny china MFN status because of human rights violation.6

Sixth, many countries that criticize china for its human rights violation have their own human rights problem.

The ICCPR which china has not yet ratified allows for the declaration of emergency only when the life of a nation is threatened. Derogation is not with respect to Right to Life protection against torture, cruel and inhuman treatment etc. a major concern of china’s critics was the country’s handling of Tianamen square crisis. China declared martial law in parts of country in 1989. It has been argued that peaceful student demonstrations were not adequate ground to declare martial law and the force used was excessive. During Mao era, citizens were afraid to discuss political issues with their family members or in public. Government continues to impose in some cases ruthlessly and with little regard for legal niceties or international opinion severe limitations on civil and political freedoms.

The government endorses socialism, including in preamble to constitution which guarantees adherence to four principles: the leading role of party, adherence to socialism, dictatorship of proletariat and adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.7 Now this definition is slightly changing with by shifting focus from proletariat to advance productive forces including private sectors. The abstract relation of china with international is neither dualism or monism but follows a dialectical model in which both systems are separate that are supplementing each other.8 China’s perception of international human rights is related to factors such as historical perspective, domestic political culture, one party system and power and politics. The main concept is privileging of collective human rights over individual rights.

The presentation of china’s institution safeguards for human rights in National report was drafted in very general terms it gives an impression of a multi-party system with independent courts and ethnic minorities.9 In the matter of economic, social and cultural rights the government states that it gives top priority to right of subsistence and development. Economic development is regarded as fundamental basis for poverty alleviation. The report points out that china is the first country which caused poverty reduction by adhering to the role of UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG). The subsequent section describe about various rights such as right to work, social security etc. China has actively participated in draft of various declaration such as Bangkok Declaration of 1993 under this declaration right to development is regarded as an important right it criticized the emphasis of civil and political rights selectively, politicization application of double standard on human rights it also participated in the Declaration on Human Social Responsibility which acknowledge that “the insistence on favouring rights of individual lead to conflict”.10 China is also participating in Resolution presented by Russian federation that promotes traditional values on Human rights.

Exemption from International accountability

Until the mid- 1970s foreigners had little or no access to most parts of the country, diplomats and tourists were restricted and few journalists and academic were entry to travel . it was difficult for Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) to know precisely what was going on in the country.11 The chinese government did not publish facts or figures on human rights condition because contracts with foreigners were considered treason, Amnesty international could not secure hand information about prisoners in china until late 1970s. the first state department human rights report on china was published in 1980, containing several disclaimers. It could find no authentic information on whether People of Republic of China (PRC) authorities are still using torture. In 1979, firm restrictions were published prohibiting chinese from meeting with foreigners unless officially approved.12 Warning were also issued to journalists against reporting on human rights while it initially tolerated journalistic accounts of violations of the past, they objected to the stories of present abuses. In 1982, several U.S. academicians were expelled after trying to conduct research into social conditions and several chinese students were arrested for allegedly furnishing them with state secrets.13

The difficulty of coping up with large no. of chinese victims has discouraged many from taking up issue of human rights in china. Mao Zedong in fact deprived 5% population of their rights, after declaring them members of revolutionary classes also because the prevailing fear of large migration has been do away with due to fear that china might outcast its population on rest of the world. the large no of population has led to its disadvantage that individual cases cannot be dealt with and every area cannot be focused.14

Several prejudices have worked in the favour and this lead to judging human rights practice. China’s history also has worked in his favour helping to keep western world silent about human rights. The forcible opening and shameful exploitation of china in 19th century and thereafter by western regime. Various cases of human rights violation has led to this assumption of the gross abuse of the human rights from the early 1970s.

Treating china differently from other countries has meant greater deference has been shown to other governments. The deference shown that china contracts with harsh criticism levelled against it for the communist regime it follows. Due to the different laws followed in the china under communist regime and the cut-off from the outside help has helped it to the detriment of china.


1 Marina Svensson, Debating Human Rights in China: A Conceptual and Political History (Rowman & littlefield Publishers. Inc, USA, 2002)

2 Rankin, Mary Backus, Early chinese Revolutionaries: Radical intellectuals in Shanghai and Chekiang ( Harvard University Press, 1971)

3 Human Rights watch world report 2019, china events of 2019

4 Rosemary Foot, Rights Beyond Borders: The Global Community and the Struggle over Human (oxford university press, New York, 2002)

5 Supra note 4

6 Peerenboom, Randall ‘ Assessing Human rights in China : why double standards’ vol. 38, Cornell Law Journal (2005)

7 Supra note 4

8 Ibid

9 Supra note 6

10 R. Weatherley, The Discourse of Human Rights in China: Historical and Ideological Perspectives (Macmillan Press Ltd. Great Britain 1999)

11 Ibid

12 Supra note7

13 Supra note 10

14 J chan , A Confucian perspective on human rights for contemporary China (Cambridge University Press)

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Human rights violation in China
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Talat Chaudhary (Author), 2020, Human rights violation in China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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