Home > PUBLICATIONS & RESOURCES > JOURNAL >

From “Handicapped” to “Physically Challenged”: the Discourse Transformation in China’s Cause of the Physically Challenged in the New Era
November 30,2018   By:CSHRS
From “Handicapped” to “Physically Challenged”: the Discourse Transformation in China’s Cause of the Physically Challenged in the New Era
 
ZHANG Wanhong* & DING Peng**
 
Abstract: In the human rights discourse of China, the terminolo-gy used for canfei (handicapped) was changed to canji (persons with disabilities) and then canzhang (physically challenged), which has literally manifested the unfolding of the new philosophy for the physical-ly challenged. In particular, the achievements of the China physically-challenged programs in the New Era shows that at both institutional and mindset dimensions, it has stepped beyond the definition of canji and entered into the higher level featured by the term canzhang. As for the future practical strategies of the national physically-challenged programs, it is important to hold on the ideas of socialist humanism, and to explore the constitutional model and human rights model for physically-challenged rights protection. This is also the major clue to conclude the achievements of the two “30 years” physically-challenged programs since the establishment of the PRC. Countries worldwide, particularly developing countries, can draw experience from this China model of developing the programs and strategies of human rights-based governance. The Chinese experience and theories also can be shared by community with a shared future for human beings.
 
Keywords: handicapped   persons with disabilities   physically challenged   human rights   discourse
 
In the human rights discourse of China, the terminology used for canfei (handicapped) was changed to canji (persons with disabilities) and then canzhang (physically challenged), which manifests the unfolding of the new philosophy for the physically challenged-this is also the symbiotic effect of social institutional reform. From the “benevolence” thinking and charitable relief system of traditional Chinese society, to the humanitarian thinking and medical welfare system of modern society, and to the concept of a community with a shared future for human beings and the model of society for the physically challenged in the new era, the Chinese people are advancing new practical experience and theoretical discourse in the field of human rights and development, and contributing Chinese solutions that can affect the whole world.
 
Ⅰ. From “Handicapped” to “Persons with Disabilities”: the First Leap in the Cause of the Persons with Disabilities in the People’s Republic of China
 
The discourse change from “handicapped” to “persons with disabilities” is synchronized with the historical progress of Chinese society, from the traditional into the modern era. In other words, this change was driven by the trend of the times. A careful review of how we went through this historical gap will unveil the inheritance of the long-standing humanitarian tradition of Chinese civilization, the critique of the ideas and institutions in traditional societies, and the creation based on the new ideas of socialist humanitarianism. For the first time in the history of China, the persons with disabilities have been regarded as equal members of society. They two are workers and builders of the socialist society, recognized by the Constitution.
 
A. Long-standing civilization and humanitarian tradition
 
China boasts a time-honored civilization. Speaking of the humanitarian values in China’s long tradition, people often quote this line in the paragraph named “Great Harmony” in Part Li Yun of the Book of Etiquette: “When the Great Tao prevailed, the whole world was one community. Those with virtue and those with ability are chosen and used. People value trustworthiness and cultivate harmony with each other.” Thus people do not treat only their parents like parents, nor do people treat only their sons like sons. That makes the aged have the appropriate last years, those in their prime have the appropriate employment, and the young have the appropriate growth and development. Elderly men with no spouses, widows, orphans, elderly people without children or grandchildren, the persons with disabilities, and the ill — all are provided for... This is called the ‘Great Harmony’.” It can be said that since ancient times, the Chinese nation has displayed a fine tradition and the virtue of caring for and helping the persons with disabilities.
 
However, it should also be noted that in ancient society, due to the lack of social security networks, the phenomena of abandoning infants, the old, and the persons with disabilities occurred from time to time under the influence of poverty and famine. Therefore, the ideal of “all are provided for” for the persons with disabilities had been greatly weakened. In an agricultural society that relied heavily on manual labor, physical and mental impairment was seen as a major misfortune. People interpreted it as karma, and regarded disability as a kind of evil. In addition, in the absence of scientific cognition, the simple concept of “equality” about life contributed to a certain cognitive disorder — physical defects became a source of special abilities. For example, there were blind fortune tellers.1 And for example, because of the different senses of the persons with disabilities, it was taken for granted that they had “different” and “special talents”. Thus, they were deprived of the equal opportunities for socializing, working, and participating in life.2 Such “misunderstanding” and “prejudice” do not help to understand disability from the perspectives of human diversity and equal dignity. Even to this date, they still have a negative impact on the public.
 
People with disabilities have become a burden on their families and society. In the ideal society envisioned by the aforementioned Book of Etiquette, while “all are provided for” gives countries the responsibility for the persons with disabilities, it also establishes the marginal position of the persons with disabilities, which means that they are naturally in need of help. This concept still has considerable impacts on people today.3
 
B. Humanitarian values of the modern society
 
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, in the process of modernization, the whole society gradually realized that “People’s attitude toward persons with disabilities people varies greatly depending on social conditions and their personal situations... Simply to sympathize with the persons with disabilities doesn’t mean that people regard them as equals deep in their hearts... The persons with disabilities are equal members of the whole population.”4
 
Since the launch of reform and opening up, the rapid development of China’s cause for the persons with disabilities has involved a lot of international exchanges and cooperation. When the United Nations designated 1981 as the “International Year of Persons with disabilities Persons,” the official translation of the term in China was still the “International Year of the Handicapped.” In 1982, the UN General Assembly adopted the “World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons”. In 1983, the UN General Assembly announced that 1983-1993 was the “UN Decade of Persons with Disabilities”, which further broadened the horizons of the people, and enhanced the whole society’s awareness of the persons with disabilities and their problems. This international environment meant that it was urgent for China to establish its own new type of organization for the persons with disabilities.
 
On March 15, 1984, the China Foundation for Persons with Disabilities was established. In 1988, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation was set up. The “Promotion Program for the China Disabled Persons’ Federation”, which was developed under the guidance of Deng Pufang in 1983, first proposed the definition of a persons with disabilities person under the banner of humanitarianism. The Program “believes that the impact of ‘disability’ on the life and work of a person depends on the conditions that society provides for him/her. Under certain conditions, persons with disabilities people can become the creators of social wealth and become the force to advance society, rather than being ‘useless’ or a burden on society.”
 
At the same time, paragraph 2, Article 45 of the 1982 Constitution states that “The state and society guarantee the lives of persons with disabilities soldiers, comfort and compensate the families of the martyrs, and provide favorable conditions for the families of soldiers.” Paragraph 3 states that “The state and society help to arrange the em-ployment, life and education of the blind, deaf, mute, and others with disabilities.”5 This is considered to be “the most fundamental national guarantee for the develop-ment of welfare for the persons with disabilities.”6
 
Since then, the state has advocated the use of “persons with disabilities” rather than “handicapped,” to show that although a person may be “persons with disabilities”, he/she can still achieve a lot. This was a move that upholds the inherent dignity of human beings, and demonstrates the humanitarian spirit. “Socialist humanitarianism is the banner of the cause of the persons with disabilities in China.” “The persons with disabilities are, in the first place, human beings. Neglecting or even discriminating against this group with special difficulties in society is disrespecting the meaning and value of human beings, which will also make the society lose something important.” “We also encourage the self-esteem, self-confidence, self-improvement and self-reliance of the persons with disabilities. We encourage them to overcome ‘psychological barriers’ and make themselves better persons, and courageously pursue the lofty rights of the persons with disabilities, that is, the right to work and the right to contribute.”7
 
This change in terms had a great influence on the awareness of ordinary people, especially the persons with disabilities themselves. For example, in 1985, the famous writer Xiao Qian published an article in People’s Daily. He told a story in the article titled This Expression is Wrong –– One day, he received a letter forwarded by the Department of Literature and Art of People’s Daily, which was written to him by a reader from Chengdu. The letter said, “You were one of my respected writers. Recently, however, I found that your position in my heart has been shaken. Why? Because I read your essay ‘Meditation on a European Tour (V): The Way of Civilization’ published on February 14th in People’s Daily. The word “handicapped” you used in the essay hurt me. I am a person who has lost my left arm and left leg; but I am not ‘handicapped’ and useless. I am still running a bookstore and selling books you have written. It is a fact that I have disabilities. But am I “handicapped” or useless because of that? In March last year, the China Persons with disabilities Persons’ Foundation was established? Didn’t you read newspaper?”8 Mr. Xiao Qian said that he immediately wrote a short essay to People’s Daily and admitted to the public that he used the word wrong.
 
Studies have shown that it takes time to change the public’s traditional impres-sion of the persons with disabilities and cultivate a positive attitude. In this process, it is important to pay attention to how the public approach the persons with disabilities. Direct contact with persons with disabilities people and interaction with persons with disabilities people is an effective way for them to understand the persons with disabil-ities. It is easier for people with more contact with people with disabilities to under-stand and accept the persons with disabilities, and to have higher evaluations of the personalities and rights of the persons with disabilities. To read texts or pictures that describe the positive image of a person with disabilities and to indirectly approach a person with disabilities is another way to improve public attitudes towards the persons with disabilities.9 In this process, the influence of the media language is crucial.10
 
Ⅱ. From “Persons with Disabilities” to “Physically Challenged”: Innovation of the Discourse in China’s Cause of the Persons with Disabilities in the New Era
 
In the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics, as China strives to establish a fair and rational international human rights governance system and build a community with a shared future for human beings, there is no doubt that people with disabilities are an indispensable part. The persons with disabilities are also one of the main forces in building a well-off society in an all-round way.
 
At the same time, the symbiotic evolution of the disability-related new systems and concepts is a dynamic process with mutual feedback. Sometimes, it is new social systems, including rules and institutions that have given birth to new ideas. For example, the China Foundation for Persons with disabilities Persons and the China Persons with disabilities Persons’ Federation have corrected some misunderstandings of the persons with disabilities. Sometimes, new concepts of action and social consensus work first, and then the system follows. For example, in the process of enacting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the persons with disabilities community advocated a new definition of “disability.”
 
Therefore, under the new ideas and new institutional context of international human rights beginning with the CRPD, the innovation of human rights discourse in the cause of China’s persons with disabilities persons in the new era should become an important part of the new experience and theoretical discourse of China in the field of human rights and development.
 
A. Towards a comprehensive well-off society: new ideas and new institutions starting from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
 
China independently advances the cause of the rights of people with disabilities. While consolidating the various domestic livelihoods and policy institutions concerning the persons with disabilities, or physically challenged, China also keeps open-minded and actively participates in international affairs related to the physically challenged. China is recognized as the most active force in the UN Decade of Persons with disabilities Persons. In international bilateral and multilateral cooperation, China’s important influence on the work of the physically challenged and their rights can also be seen in various relevant international organizations.
 
From the perspective of the international community, there are three main types of progress and achievements China has made in terms of the protection of the rights of people with disabilities. First, borrowing advanced international experience, such as the newly revised Regulations on the Education of Persons with Disabilities, to actively promote the integrated education that is widely accepted internationally. Second, China has made contributions to the development of the institutions for the rights of people with disabilities, such as participating in the drafting of the CRPD, becom-ing one of the first parties to the Convention, and effectively fulfilling its obligations as a party to the Convention. Third, China has made great efforts to shoulder its due responsibilities in the international cooperation concerning people with disabilities. For example, Ms. Zhang Haidi, Chairman of the China Persons with disabilities Per-sons’ Federation, was elected as the new chairman of Rehabilitation International in 2016.11
 
According to the CRPD, which the Chinese government approved in 2008, “disability” is not a personal illness or defect in nature, but “is an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” Persons with disabilities include “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” The chapter on “Barrier-Free Environment” of the Law on the Protection of Persons with disabilities Persons amended in 2008 also pointed out that disability is not only about a physical and/or mental impairment, but also about external barriers.
 
With the introduction of the CRPD, a new discourse system and narrative model was introduced, calling for news reports to shift from a welfare model to a rights model, and from a care model to an empowerment model.12 In 2011, the document Some of the Banned Words in News Reports pointed out that for those with physical disabilities, the words such as “the useless,” “the blind,” “the deaf,” “fool,” and “idiot” were forbidden, and phrases such as “the physically challenged”, “blind person”, “deaf person” and “person with mental disabilities” should be used.13
 
In this regard, on the basis of the adjustment of national laws and policies, the Chinese government has taken humanitarianism as the starting point and publicized a “new concept of the persons with disabilities,” the contents of which include: Recognizing that there have been people with disabilities since the beginning of human society. Disability is a social cost that is inevitable in the process of human development. People with disabilities have their dignity and rights, which should be respected and protected. Persons with disabilities persons have the desire and ability to participate in social life. They are also the creators of social wealth. The main cause of the problems of persons with disabilities people is not the disability itself, but the external barriers they face. The participation of persons with disabilities people in social life calls for the help of society, but also depends on their own hard work.14 While vigorously carrying forward humanitarian ideas, China has gradually developed and advocated the modern concepts of “equality, engagement and sharing”.15
 
In summary, the achievements of China’s cause of the persons with disabilities persons have gone beyond the term of “persons with disabilities” in both the institutional and ideological dimensions, and has reached the more advanced term of “physically challenged.”
 
B. Disabilities and equality: the Chinese solution that once again affects the world
 
2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up, the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, and the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While reviewing and recognizing the great achievements made in the development of Chinese society and the cause of the persons with disabilities, people also bear in mind the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
 
From this, people realize that from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), China has made remarkable achievements. It will continue to contribute practical experience and theoretical discourse in the field of human rights and development, and offer its solutions with global influence.
 
The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals have a total of 169 specific indicators, seven of which directly refer to disabilities. The agenda also requires specific sub-indicators concerning the persons with disabilities in various other indicators. The SDGs allow people to view disability outside the context of disability, and put disability issues under a broader and more diversified perspective. In this regard, the Chinese government has linked human rights with the agenda of development of persons with disabilities persons at the national policy level, and promoted the coordination of multiple departments in the protection of the rights of the physically challenged. From China’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020), to China’s National Plan on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and to the regulations and policies of specific developments, such as the Ministry of Justice’ Opinions on Strengthening the Public Legal Service for the Persons with disabilities during the 13th Five-Year Plan Period in 2017, all the moves are consistent. These actions have implemented the Article 13 “Access to justice” of the CRPD, Article 8 of China’s Law on the Protection of the Persons with Disabilities, and 16th goal of the 2030 SDGs as well as China’s national plan for it.
 
In the international human rights system and human rights practice in countries around the world, these practices are advanced and widely praised. They can be summarized as the “Chinese solution” for advancing the cause of the persons with disabilities. In this context, China’s cause of the persons with disabilities persons adds something new to the discourse system, and promotes the symbiotic evolution of the new concepts and new institution, because the physically challenge, as participants and workers in building a well-off society, will face in society not only social systems and environments with barriers, but also cultural discrimination and prejudice,16 and because their engagement in social life as equal members constitute an important link in the people’s need for a better life in the new era.
 
Specifically, in domestic practice, the discourse change from “persons with disabilities” to “physically challenged” help stakeholders, including researchers, poli-cymakers, relevant workers, and the persons with disabilities community, to clarify a core issue – in the context of China, how to do the “performance model,” in which the physically challenged engage in economic activities as workers in the market and gain equal rights, connect with and transfer into the “constitutional model,” in which they equally participate in social and public life as citizens enjoying their rights guaranteed by the Constitution.17 Only when the efficiency-oriented goals of the “performance model” and the fairness-driven goals of the “constitutional model” are both taken into consideration, can the “social model” and “human rights model” advocated by the CRPD be truly realized.18 This is a realistic strategy for the continued progress of China’s cause of the persons with disabilities persons, as well as the mainstream discourse that sums up the achievements of the “two 30 years” since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
 
Regarding international exchanges, only when China has explored and completed the discourse change from “persons with disabilities” to “physically challenged,” can it have the strength, confidence and skills to clearly explain its stories of and solutions for the human rights governance concerning the physically challenged. China’s successful experience is consistent with the human rights principles of the CRPD, while combining the protection of the equal rights of the physically challenged with eliminating poverty, building of a well-off society, and achieving development. It is exactly a strategy for human rights governance that can be borrowed by other countries, especially developing ones. It is also the practical experience and theoretical fruit that can be shared by the community with a shared future for human beings.
 
* ZHANG wanhong ( 张万洪 ), professor of the Law School of wuhan University, and deputy director of wu-han University Human Rights Research Institute;
 
** dING peng ( 丁鹏 ), Chief Researcher of wuhan East Lake Social development Research Institute. This article is the phased research achievement of the project of “Latest western Theories and practice of Human Rights Law and China’s Innovation in Human Rights Law” (project number: 15JJd820023) of the Humanities and Social Sciences Key Research base (National Human Rights Education and Training base) under the Ministry of Education, and ministerial project “Research on the Institutions for the Equal Judicial Justice for the physically Challenged” (project No. CLS (2016) d04) of the China Law Society.
 
1. Jiang Sheng and Li Shuwen, “Cultural Interpretation of the phenomenon of Chongxin blind,” Journal of Shandong University 5 (2004); Chen Jianhua and pan yuhong, “disadvantaged or Advantaged: The paradox of the Social Status of the blind in China,” Gansu Social Science 2 (2012).
 
2. For example, yang Shizhai of the Qing dynasty (1648-1911) once said, “No one in the army is useless. Even for the deaf, you can make them the close servant so that the military intelligence is not leaked. For the mute, they can send the confidential letters so that no more words will be added. For the crippled, they can stay in the barbette so that no one can easily escape from threat. For the blind, they can stay close to the ground and listen to situations in the distance, because their ears are usually sensitive.” This is an excerpt from the book Unofficial History of the Qing Dynasty: Yang Shizhai on the Use of People, quoted from Lu deyang, A History of the Persons with disabilities in China (Shanghai: xuelin publishing House, 1996), 62. This idea of regarding “stereotype” as “advanced experience” is consistent with how people today think that the deaf are suitable for work with great noise, or computer programming, or art design, and that the blind are suitable for massage, tuning piano, and so on.
 
3. Li xuehui, “The Social Image of the persons with disabilities: An Analysis of the deeds of the ‘National Self-improvement Model’ of persons with disabilities persons,” Study on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, vol. 2, no. 1 (beijing: Social Sciences and Academic press, 2015), 27-29.
 
4. deng pufang, “The publicity program of the China Foundation for persons with disabilities persons,” in The Call of Humanitarianism, vol. 1 (beijing: Huaxia publishing House, 2006), 11.
 
5. The term “help arrange” in Article 45, paragraph 3, of the Constitution retains the characteristics of the planned economy era, and is incompatible with the socialist market economy system in the new era. The terms “guarantee” or “protect” are more in line with the spirit of the Law on the Protection of the Persons with disabilities. Moreover, persons with disabilities citizens’ participation in public affairs on an equal footing and enjoyment of the fruits of building a well-off society in an all-round way should not be limited to only the aspects of work, life and education, but should be extended to all the equal rights given by the Constitution to the citizens. If this article is changed into “The state and society help to guarantee all the equal rights of the blind, deaf, mute, and others with disabilities,” it will both adhere to the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution and the Law on the Protection of the Persons with disabilities, and demonstrate the achievements of China in the field of rule of law and human rights in the new era.
 
6. deng pufang, “The publicity program of the China Foundation for persons with disabilities persons,” 11.
 
7. deng pufang, “Humanitarianism Connects Us Together,” in The Call of Humanitarianism, vol. 1 (beijing: Huaxia publishing House, 2006), 200-201.
 
8. Tian xiaolin, “From ‘disability’ to ‘Rehabilitation’,” Tasting the Characters 11 (2001).
 
9. Ma Ting et al., “Indirect Contact based on Text Reading Can Also Improve public Attitudes towards people with disabilities,” Applied Psychology 1 (2014).
 
10. Gao yuxiang and Liu Hanxu, “Analysis of the Contents of Reports Related to people with Hearing disorder in People’s Daily,” Study on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, vol. 3, no. 1 (beijing: Social Sciences and Academic press, 2016), 23.
 
11. Zhang wanhong, “Great Achievements in the protection of the Rights of persons with disabilities,” People’s Daily, September 27, 2017.
 
12. yan Shuqiang, “Misunderstanding and Transformation of Reporting Concepts for disadvantaged Groups: Taking Reports on persons with disabilities persons as an Example,” Youth Journalist, August 2013 (II), 24-25.
 
13. ding yuanyuan, “Analyses of Retraction declaration in domestic Academic Journals,” Acta Editologica 4 (2011): 334.
 
14. wang xinxian, “building the Concept of persons with disabilities persons in the Modern Civilized Society,” China Persons with disabilities Persons 7 (2001): 47.
 
15. The State Council’s Opinions on Accelerating the process of the well-off Society building for the persons with disabilities [Guofa (2015) No. 7].
 
16. Zhang Henghao and Su Fengshan, “Analysis of the Images of the physically or Mentally Challenged in Taiwan’s postwar primary School Textbooks,” Taiwan Social Science Journal 42 (2009): 173.
 
17. Regarding the discussion on the “performance model” and “constitutional model” of the Affirmative Action, please refer to yan Tian, Boating on a River: Equality Reform and the Change of Rule of Law (beijing: Tsinghua University press, 2016), preface.
 
(Translated by CHENG Feng)
Chinese Dictionary:

@cn_humanrights

For the latest news and analysis from our

reporters and editors:Staff Twitter List>>

E-mail:chinahrs@public.bta.net.cn