Home > PUBLICATIONS & RESOURCES > JOURNAL >

Contemporary China’s Human Rights Development to the World
July 10,2017   By:CSHRS

Contemporary China’s Human Rights Development to the World

LU Guangjin*

On January 18, 2017, General Secretary Xi Jinping, speaking at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, said that China always prioritizes people’s rights, and continuously promotes and protects human rights according to its national conditions. It has solved the subsistence problems of more than 1.3 billion people, and lifted 700 million people out of poverty, which has been widely recognized as being a major contribution to the internationalhuman rights cause. General Secretary Xi Jinping’s speech has profound implications and it provides an understandingof the contemporary development of Chinese human rights development and its significance to the world.

China’s development has benefited from the world, yet China has also contributed significantly to the world. There is a consensus that China is still the fastest growing country in the world, and as a developing country in the East, China has not only succeeded in developing and safeguarding people’s fundamental interests, but also enriched the diversity of human civilization, and provided the international community with a distinctive Chinese human rights program.

I. Human Rights Development Path with Chinese Characteristics

The basic orientation of China’s social development is people-orientated, and thus to respect and protect human rights. For thousands of years, mankind has struggled to be free of fear and want, and to safeguard people’s rights. In a certain sense, the history of human society is the history of people’s struggles for dignity and a better life.

The history of human society shows that a country’s development path is determined by its national conditions. Whether it is the Christianity of Western civilization, theIslam of Arabic civilization, or the Confucianism of Chinese civilization, they all represent the development pathsofthese different societies. Western countries embarked on modern development through establishing bourgeois republics. However, China established a socialist country after it had undergone 110 years of semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, and experienced the failure of a bourgeois-democratic revolution and the victory of a new-democratic revolution. Its different civilization and different historical choices have made China embark on a path to promote and protect human rights that is different from that of Western countries.

China has made great progress on the path of human rights development. China is the most populous country in the world today. It has less than 10 percent of world’s arable land, yet it supports 20 percent of world population. In the past 30 years, Chinese people’s living standardshave been greatly improved. Only a minority of Chinese families still live in poverty, with the majority becoming ever more prosperous and wealthy. The human development level in the country continues to rise. In 1980, China was still in the low human development category; in 1995, it enteredthe middle human development category; and in 2011, China attained the high human development category. According to the “2016 Human Development Report”released by the United Nations Development Program, China’s Human Development Index in 2015 ranked 90th among 188 countries, and it was already in the high human development group. Among the 47 countries that were in the low development group in 1990, China is the only country that has risen to join the high development group.

China has established the largest and increasingly comprehensive social security system. At present, more than 887 million Chinese people have basic endowment insurance, and more than 1.33 billion people havebasic medical insurance. The basic endowment insurance and medical insurance system cover both urban and rural residents. The average life expectancy of the Chinese population has increased from 35 years before 1949 to 76.34 years in 2015, at the forefront of developing countries. The education level of Chinese people has also greatly improved. Nine-year compulsory education has been kept to the rate of 93.4 percent, the high school gross enrolment rate has reached to 87.5percent, and the rate of higher education is close to the rate in middle developed countries.

Chinese people have become masters of the state and society. Socialist democratic politics in China are constantly improving. Chinese people now have more rights and freedoms enshrined in the law. Chinese people are more able to participate and capable of participating in political development, and to enjoy the political development achievements. The people’s congress system, the multi-party cooperation and political consultation system under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, grassroots democracy and regional ethnic autonomy, allconform to the national conditions and enableelection democracy and consultative democracy to complement each other. The entire system effectively protects people’s political rights. By establishing a socialist country under the rule of law, promoting improvement of the national governance system, modernizing its governance capabilities, and strengthening the judicial safeguarding of human rights, China effectivelyprotects civil rights and establishes social equity and justice. Chinese people enjoy more andmore options in life, and they are involved in social activities on a deeper level. That is to say, they have adequate freedom to choose their careers and to move between cities. There are more opportunities available to them.

China has made significant contributions to achieve the United NationsDevelopment Goals. China firmly supported the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, and has achieved, or substantially achieved,the 13 goals it set out. China has effectively organized and implemented the fastest large-scale poverty reduction in the world. Data from the World Bank show that between 1981 and 2015, China reduced its poverty stricken population by an accumulated 728 million, a figure that is more than the population of Latin America or the European Union. There were 152 million people living in poverty in the rest of the world during the same period. The “2016 Human Development Report” of the United Nations Development Program states that China’s poverty reduction achievements reduced the extreme poverty rate in East Asia from 60 percent in 1990 to 3.5 percent in 2013. China’s infant mortality rate,meanwhile, dropped from 50.2 percent in 1991 to 8.9 percent in 2014, and the maternal mortality rate dropped from 88.8 per 100,000 in 1990 to 21.7 per 100,000 in 2014, achieving the United Nations’Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule. China supports the United Nations’2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and ithas issued a position document and country based program to implement the agenda. China has also taken the lead in implementing national programs to address climate change, and it is conscientiously implementing the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

China has played an important role in promoting the common development of all countries. China actively participates in global economic governance, and it encourages developing countries to participate in global development affairs. China is still the engine and stabilizer for world economic growth, contributing around 30 percent of the world’s economic growth. China has been the largest export market for the least developed countries for many years, absorbing more than 20 percent of the exports from the least developed countries. China has provided a total of 400 billion yuan in assistance to 166 countries and international organizations, trained more than 12 million personnel for developing countries, and dispatched more than 600,000 assistants. China has vigorously promoted the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which is a fair and open platform for comprehensive and innovative shared development. The initiative provides a new development mode for economic globalization and trade liberalization.

II. Chinese Philosophy of Human Rights Development

China is confident in its protection of human rights. It insists on innovative development, actively cultivates human rights concepts based on its reality, and has established the recognition of and international discourse on basic human rights characterizedby oriental culture.

There is no universally applicable human rights development path and model for safeguarding them. Whether the shoes fit, only the wearer knows. What kind of human rights development path and model for safeguarding human rights a country chooses depends on its own national conditions and people. General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out: Our human rights cause shall not take the standards of other countries; no matter on what stage, our human rights shall develop in accordance with China’s national conditions and people’s needs. Some countries, represented by the United States, believe that their human rights situation is perfect. They ignore their own serious human rights problems, and moreover, consider themselves to be the “defenders of human rights”. They hold double standards towards human rights issues, constantly accusing other countries, and even launching wars to change the political systems and development models of other countries. Experience shows that this approach does not improve the protection of human rights; instead, it may lead to serious human rights disasters.

The right to life and right to development are primary human rights. As early as 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese philosophers held that “[t]he greatest virtue of the world is life"1. Life is the basis for the continuation of human society. Development is the driving force for human society to move forward. Poverty is the greatest obstacle to survival and development, and it is the greatest threat to human rights too. The first priority for the development of human society is to fulfilpeople’s need for food, clothes and shelter. Political, scientific, artistic and religious activities come after these basic needs have been met. It is difficult to achieve these basic human rights without the production and supply of goods, nor is it possible to achieve comprehensive development without them. Therefore, it is unrealistic to talk about human rights without considering the right to life and right to development.

Human rights are both individual and collective human rights. Human rights are owned by every individual, and shared by the state, the nation and the people. China believes that “[t]he free development of every individual is the foundation for development of all mankind".2 There won’t be collective development without personal development; and individuals can develop comprehensively only in a collective. The United Nations’Declaration on the Right to Development, which China participated in drafting, holds that “[e]qual opportunity of development is a unique right of both the state and individuals. Any state and individual has the right to participate in development, and equal right to enjoy achievements of development.”

Human rights protection and realization is always on the road. The development of human society is endless, so is the realization of human rights. General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly pointed out that the human rights cause can never be fully accomplished. There is no perfect state of human rights, although there are always better ones. History indicates that human rights protection continually advances. As such, all countries need to continually improve their human rights protection. Francis Fukuyama once proposed we were at the end of history. Recently, he revised this idea and he now holds that politics are always progressing. Every system needs to evolve, and there is no universally applicable political system. Human rights develop comprehensively, coordinately and sustainably. Human rights include the right to life and the right to development, but also economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as civil and political rights. In order to be sustainable, the development of human rights shall not only meet the needs of today, but also the needs of future generations.

Promoting global governance of human rights by establishing a community of common destiny for all mankind. Human beings all live on the same planet, thus both nations and the international community are responsible for promoting human rights. In the 21st century, mankind is facing unprecedented challenges, but the challenges also provide rare opportunities for development. At the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, General Secretary Xi Jinping made a profound statement about jointly building a community of common destiny. In doing so he pointed out the direction for global human rights governance: The international community shall, based on the principle of tolerance, common welfare, sovereign equality, dialogue and consultation, win-win cooperation, mutual understanding and green development, jointly promote fair and reasonable global human rights governance. Recently, the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted two resolutions on “economic, social and cultural rights” and “food rights”. The resolutions made it clear they were aimed at helping “to builda community of common destiny for all mankind”. This is the first time that the concept has been incorporated into resolutions of the United Nations Human Rights Council, marking an important step in the international human rights discourse.

III. China’s Experience of Human Rights Development

General Secretary Xi Jinping, in his speech at the headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, stressed that the diversity of human civilization is a basic feature of the world, and it is the source of human progress. China’s human rights cause constitutes a new pattern for contemporary human civilization, and it provides experience for other countries.

China combines human rights universality with its national conditions. China actively draws on the historical achievements of human civilization, and follows the principle of the universality of human rights. As a founding member of the United Nations, China participated in the drafting and signing of the Charter of the United Nations. China promotes the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, holds to the spirit of theInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and has so far signed 26 international human rights conventions. China supports the Resolution on New Human Rights Concepts, the Resolution on the Right to Development and the Declaration on the Right to Development that were adopted by the United Nations. Meanwhile, Chinese human rights have developedin line with its own culture, values, social system and people’s needs. In his in-depth study of Chinese human rights development, Tom Zwart, a Dutch human rights scholar, pointed out that human rights are not just universal, but also particular and diverse. There is no reason to exclude cultural, ethnic, religious and social factors from human rights.

Chinese human rights development unifies three principles: the leadership of the CPC, the people being masters of the country, and the rule of law. A major feature and advantage of Chinese politics is the CPC’s leadership and governance. It fundamentally guarantees China’s human rights cause. The socialist system and China’s human rights cause require that politically the people be masters of the country. It ensures that people have the powers of the country, and that people participate in national affairs. Rule of law is the basic means for governing the country. It aims at defining and safeguarding human rights, and building a society with human rights at the core.

Development is the driving force to protect and promote human rights. For a long time, poverty has been a major obstacle to human rights development in China. China has learned the painful lesson that development is of overriding importance. It is the key to solving all problems in China. The CPC takes economic construction as its central task and development as its first priority. It strives to realize comprehensive and coordinated development of the economy, politics, culture, society and environment. The CPC adheres to innovation, green, coordinated, open and shared development concepts. In terms of the development mode, it aims to achieve wealthy moderately prosperous society in an all-around way, an environmentally friendly civilization and sustainable development. Moreover, it believes that innovation enhances development vigour. All the above endeavours are to ensure Chinese people share the fruits of development.

People’s well-being is the fundamental guarantee for human rights. The CPC always puts the people first. The CPC holds that development should be people-centred; people’s livelihoods should be improved, and people’s well-being is the starting point for development. The dream of China is the dream of the Chinese people, and the dream of human rights in China. The Chinese dream of building a well-off society and realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is to provide people with a better education, a stable job, as satisfactory income, reliable social security, quality medical services, more comfortable living conditions, and a beautiful environment, so that everyone can, with dignity, develop themselves and dedicate their efforts to society and the country. As such, people have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful life, and make their dreams come true.

Human rights protection is incorporated as a national development strategy. Both the Chinese Constitution and the Constitution of the CPC respect and protect human rights. It isthe firm resolve of the Party and the state to safeguard human rights. China has also set a higher human rights protection level in every five-year plan for national economic and social development, and in other plans on economic, cultural, social and environmental projects. China has also developed three national human rights action plans since 2009, and has become one of the few countries in the world to have drawn up such action plans.

China’s great achievements in human rights development and China’s major contribution to the world’s human rights cause have given Chinese people confidence. In terms of its development stage, China is still at an early stage of socialism, and will be at that stage for a long time. The contradiction between the growing material and cultural needs of the people and the country’s backward social production is still the main contradiction of society. To achieve greater human rights for all the people, China has a long way to go. At present, under the leadership of the CPC with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, Chinese people are working hard to realize the two centenary goals, and realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Studies have shown that even if its economic growth slows, China is likely to be among the high-income countries before 2030, and it will become the world’s largest economic entity. In the years to come, China’s human rights cause will be better developed and the institutional advantages of human rights in China will become more prominent. China will contribute to the progress of diversified human civilization.

(Translated by WEI Heng)

*LUGuangjin ( 鲁广锦 ), Secretary General of China Society for Human Rights Studies, Director and Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Human Rights.

1“TiaociZhuan” [Tiao Ci Biography], in Zhouyi [the Book of Change].

 2Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,The Communist Manifesto.