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Historic Progress: China has Made Three Major Strides in the Cause of Human Rights in the Past 70 Years
October 30,2019   By:CSHRS

Historic Progress: China has Made Three Major Strides in the Cause of Human Rights in the Past 70 Years

LI Junru*

2019 marks the 70th year since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “Our people are the country’s solid foundation and our main source of confidence to govern,” General Secretary Xi Jinping concluded.1 This highlights the relationship between the people and the republic as well as the relationship between the people and the governance of the Communist Party of China. What is highlighted is the core concept of “the people”. The past 70 years have been arduous but magnificent with many ups and downs for both the People’s Republic and China’s human rights cause. In the process, China’s human rights has made three major leaps forward of historical significance and achieved unprecedented progress.

I. The First Step: The Chinese People Who “Stood up” Realized the First Great Leap in China’s Human Rights

The best observation of the Chinese nation’s history of struggle for over a century is that of Mao Zedong, who declared upon the founding of the People’s Republic of China that the Chinese people, accounting for a quarter of the world population, had stood up.2

Their “standing up” was symbolized by the holding of the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and founding the People’s Republic of China. The Common Program of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference formulated by the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which was convened on September 21, 1949, served as the first great charter comprehensively reflecting and ensuring the basic human rights of the Chinese people. The People’s Republic of China founded on October 1, 1949, established a people’s democratic dictatorship which ensured people’s basic human rights for the first time in the Chinese history. Thus, the “standing up” may sound ordinary, but there are profound connotations to it, as it represents the liberation of the Chinese people and a great advance for human rights in China.

Human rights should never be an abstract concept, and the people’s liberation is the realistic course of history. “Standing up” is not the end of the great human rights liberation of the Chinese people but its starting point; the Chinese people who “stood up” completed plentiful undertakings and underwent arduous struggles under the leadership of the Communist Party of China for the fulfillment of their liberation. For the same reason, “standing up” is only to lead the Chinese people to shake off the shackles of the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism and to enable them to become the masters of our country and society, in order to provide basic human rights for all Chinese people; it cannot be deemed as an ultimate solution to all human rights issues in China. As a realistic course of history, the progress of human rights must be of both realistic and historical characteristics. The historical characteristics determine the existence of historically-formed features and priorities of the human rights liberation of the Chinese people who “stood up”.

First, the great leap for the human rights of the Chinese people who “stood up” can be embodied primarily in the elimination and desuetude of the patriarchal system and feudalistic conventions that granted no human rights in old China, and the establishment of the legal system to ensure the Chinese people’s basic human rights. For instance, the first law promulgated in the People’s Republic of China on May 1, 1950 was the Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China, which abolished the feudalistic marriage system featured by arranged and forced marriage, gender discrimination against female women and ignoring of children’s’ interests; instead, a new marriage system featuring free choice, equal rights for both genders and protection for women and offspring’s’ lawful interests was implemented. Another example is the Land Reform Law of the People’s Republic of China promulgated on June 30, 1950. As the legal reference for the all-around implementation of land reform, it thoroughly destroyed the feudal land ownership on one hand, and distributed 700 million mu of land and other means of production to over 300 million farmers, who owned very little land in old China. This bestowed upon them unprecedented human rights.

Second, the great leap for the human rights of the Chinese people who “stood up” can be embodied mainly in the Chinese people enjoying civil rights and political rights for the first time. After fulfilling the remaining tasks of the democratic revolution and rejuvenated national economy, the People’s Republic of China met the conditions for a general election and the National People’s Congress. By the end of 1952, the CPC proposed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to convene the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses at all levels, and to initiate the preparatory work for the draft of the Electoral Law, the Constitution and other laws. The Electoral Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses at All Levels of the People’s Republic of China promulgated in March 1953 and the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China passed in the First Plenary Session of the First National People’s Congress held during September 15 to 28, 1954 manifested that the Chinese people who “stood up” enjoyed civil rights and political rights for the first time.

Third, the great leap for the human rights of the Chinese people who “stood up” can also be embodied in China’s fulfillment of socialist transformation of private ownership as the means of production, the establishment of basic system of socialism, and further exploration of the development path of socialism suitable for China’s national condition and capable of motivating the Chinese people positively in all aspects. The peaceful redemption policy created by the CPC, particularly, not only completed the socialist transformation of capitalist industry and commerce, but also revered and ensured the basic human rights of national bourgeois industrialists and merchants. During the exploration of Chinese industrialization, Mao Zedong wrote many famous works such as On the Ten Major Relationships with the core concept to better uphold the Chinese people’s basic human rights in all aspects, just like how he proposed in his On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People that civil rights in politics is to have free and democratic rights. He also pointed out that it is well known and understood to the masses that the people enjoy vast democracy and freedom, and must use socialist disciplines to restrain themselves at the same time.3

Meanwhile, we must see that the historical characteristics of “stand up” deter-mine that the great leap of human rights liberation had those of its own, which means the Chinese people who “stood up” are against those who oppress or sabotage the Chinese people from “standing up”. As a result, we have clearly differentiated “the people” from “the enemy”. Means of democracy are adopted for the people including internal conflicts, and means of dictatorship for the enemy. Any utterance that erases or denies the Chinese human rights with “dictatorship” is either ignorant or malicious. Such “dictatorship” has two very specific goals: one is to protect the people from being invaded again; the other is to not simply deprive the enemy of their rights, but to “transform them into persons with new ideals” through law and labor.4

II. The Second Step: Reform and Opening-up Striving for the Chinese People to “Grow Rich” Realized the Second Great Leap for Human Rights in Chinese History

To “grow rich” is the most concise summary by the masses for the historical characteristics of reform and opening-up in the progress of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. “Reform and opening-up to grow rich”, is the best summary by the masses through songs for the historical experience of how we have “grown rich” in merely 40 years.

Deng Xiaoping once said that the People’s Republic of China would become an economic giant soon, for it had already become a political giant.5 Reform and opening-up was intended to transform China from a political giant further into a major force in both politics and the economy. We can see that since reform and opening-up was initiated in 1978, since the household contract responsibility system was implemented in rural areas and four special economic zones, starting with Shenzhen were established, all the reforms and development, including pushing forward system reforms in the economy, science and technology, education, culture and politics, and promoting constructions of peaceful society, ecological civilization and inner-party democracy, have greatly boosted the construction of China as a political and economic giant as well as the development of China’s human rights cause. Thus, the second great leap for human rights in Chinese history was realized in reform and opening-up and the striving for the Chinese people to “grow rich”.
The great leap in the human rights liberation of the Chinese people who “stood up” has its historical characteristic of “standing up”; the great leap of the Chinese people who “grew rich” has its historical characteristics as well.

First, reform and opening-up that strives for Chinese people to “grow rich” explicitly deems the right to subsistence and the right to development as the primary basic human rights. What history left us is a developing country with the largest population in the world. Its large population comes with large amount of human rights issues; the human rights issues in a developing country are also in the process of development. These basic national conditions forced China’s human rights cause to confront great challenges that many other countries never had to face. As a result, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people pay special attention to considering and studying human rights from the perspectives of the basic national conditions in China and the historical destiny of the Chinese people. Since reform and opening-up, our focus has shifted from class struggle to economic construction on a strategic level, and an un-derstanding of the most importance was acquired: stop taking the class struggle as the target, and human rights can gain reverence and security; adhere to taking economic construction as the central task, and human rights can be realized and safeguarded. On October 29, 1991, Jiang Zemin pointed out in depth when receiving an interview from American media that the fundamental issue of democracy, liberty and human rights are people’s rights to subsistence and development, which is the right to shape one’s destiny with one’s own hands.6 As shown in history, people’s rights of subsistence and development are the primary human rights among all in China.

This understanding, to some extent, has the feature of universal applicability; it is generalized from the Chinese people’s modern 150-year history of arduous struggle, from the experience of the Communist Party of China in the 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially in the more than 40 years of reform and opening-up, and also from China’s observation and consideration upon the experience of a great number of countries that have managed to change their undeveloped conditions. It can be said that it is a tremendous contribution made by the Chinese people to the world’s human rights cause as well as a significant development of China in the world’s human rights theories.

Second, reform and opening-up that strives for the Chinese people to “grow rich” decided to use the law to ensure human rights of the Chinese people. We have endured painful setbacks in the developing the human rights cause; consequently, the achievements made in the development of China’s human rights cause and the human rights everyone should enjoy and have already enjoyed in China’s social progress are much more precious in our eyes. Jiang Zemin pointed out explicitly in 1997 that it is a traditional virtue of the Chinese nation to appreciate people’s dignity and value; human rights issues have the meaning of universality.7 The 15th National Congress of the CPC in September 1997 put “to revere and ensure human rights” into the report to the congress of party representatives; the Second Session of the 10th National People’s Congress in March 2004 further put it into the Constitution, which marked that the CPC specifically regards “to revere and ensure human rights” as the fundamental ideal and a crucial mission of governance. This was a milestone and a huge progress of historical significance in the history of Chinese human rights.

Third, reform and opening-up that strives for the Chinese people to “grow rich” was implemented based on the understanding that the path of human rights development in different countries should fit the requirements of their basic conditions and distinct courses of history. China is a country with abundant human right resources: it has splendid traditional cultural resources such as “people are the foundation of the state” and “the benevolent love people”, human rights resources from other countries acquired during the eastward transmission of Western sciences, and theoretical resources accumulated during revolutions, constructions and reforms led by the Communist Party of China, which fully understands that human rights should be a universal principle on one hand, and should be achieved by the efforts of different countries on the other hand. Fundamentally speaking, human rights should be deemed as an issue within the scope of state sovereignty and start from different national conditions. Since reform and opening-up, the CPC has led the Chinese people to positively explore their human rights in terms of revering and ensuring them. Successful experience was gained in terms of “revering and ensuring” the human rights of individuals, groups and special communities, including civil, economic and social rights, which made very effective explorations for blazing the trail of human rights with Chinese characteristics.

Meanwhile, reform and opening-up that strives for the Chinese people to “grow rich” enhanced communication and cooperation with other countries on human rights issues in the process of facing and opening up to the world, and directly participated in the human rights projects of the United Nations. The recognition earned by the progress in China’s human rights cause is increasing in the international society; the successful experience created by China in pushing forward the human rights cause is of more significance as a shared treasure of the whole world.

III. The Third Step: Open the Doorway of the Third Great Leap for Human Rights in the Chinese History that in the New Era the Chinese People “Become Strong” with Full Confidence

Socialism with Chinese characteristics entering a new era marks that the Chinese nation ushered in the great leap of “becoming strong” after “standing up” and “growing rich”. Following this huge change in China’s historical position, China’s human rights cause opened the doorway for the third great leap in the new era.

First, China’s human rights cause in the new era is a great cause under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

The 19th National Congress of the CPC concluded that Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the newest achievement of localization of Marxism in China, which is determined as the operational guidance and written into the Party Constitution along with Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Important Thought of Three Represents and Scientific Outlook on Development. Thus, the development of China’s human rights cause and research of human rights theories with Chinese characteristics have a specific operational guide.

Second, China’s human rights cause in the new era is a self-promoting cause in the incisive process of summarizing the development path of human rights with Chinese characteristics. The path determines the destiny. It is also applicable in the human rights cause. General Secretary Xi Jinping has dedicated much effort and made great contributions to summarizing the developing path of human rights with Chinese characteristics. He has pointed out that for a long time China will insist on combining the universal principle of human rights with Chinese conditions, push forward economic and social development, endeavors for people’s well-being, enhance the legal protection of human rights, strive to expedite the comprehensive and coordinated development of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, remarkably improve the security level of people’s rights of subsistence and development and follow a development path for human rights that is in accordance with Chinese national conditions.8 He also highlighted that this development path for human rights with Chinese characteristics shall always adhere to the people-centered principle9 and regard people’s well-being as the most important human right.10

Third, China’s human rights cause in the new era is constantly fulfilling people’s growing demands for a better life in the process of handling major social conflicts in the new era. Socialism with Chinese characteristics entering the new era is a consequence of the major contradiction of society, which is now the contradiction between people’s growing demands for a better life and unbalanced and insufficient development. Meanwhile, we are still in the primary stage of socialism and the basic conditions have never changed. Under such circumstances, what the Party and country strive to solve is the problem of development being unbalanced and insufficient while maintaining the momentum of development. The quality and efficiency of development should be promoted with great efforts to better meet the growing demands in all aspects, including economic, political, cultural, social and the ecological environment, and to better expedite the overall development of people and society. Accordingly, China’s human rights cause should also advance with the times. While still ensuring the rights to subsistence and development, we should also pay more attention to and satisfy people’s rights in aspects like democracy, rule of law, equality, justice, security and environment. This issue has been proposed in the report to the 19th CPC National Congress. For instance, “to enhance the legal protection of human rights”11 was mentioned specifically; while highlighting “a comprehensive framework for promoting the rule of law is an incisive revolution of national governance”, to enhance the implementation and supervision of the Constitution, promote the review of constitutionality and defend the authority of the Constitution were also proposed.12 Also while declaring the construction of a jointly built, governed and shared social governance structure, it also specifically mentioned to safeguard people’s personality, property and moral rights,13 which means we have a higher demand and broader range of human rights causes in the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. When we study human rights issues in the new era, we must take “fulfilling people’s growing demands for a better life”14 as the target.

Fourth, China’s human rights cause in the new era is an undertaking to help secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and starting a new journey of building a modern socialist country in an all-around way. It was pointed out in the report to the 19th National Congress of the CPC that “two more 15 years” of struggle (a two -step approach) are needed on the basis of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. After the basic realization of modern socialism, we should build China into a powerful modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by 2050. The new mission and two-step strategy proposed at the 19th National Congress point out a promising future for the Chinese nation, describe a blueprint for ensuring the well-being of the Chinese people, and formulated an operational program for realizing the modern socialist construction. When we study how to further “revere and ensure human rights” now, we need to study the issue of human rights protection in “building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and starting a new journey of building a modern socialist country in an all-around way” during the historical process of the Chinese people “becoming strong”.

Fifth, China’s human rights cause in the new era is a cause in the historical process of building a community with a shared future for all humanity together with people from other countries. It was pointed out in the report to the 19th CPC National Congress that the Party devotes its efforts to seeking happiness for the Chinese people and strives for the progressive undertakings of mankind.15 The Party always regards making new and greater contributions for mankind as part of its mission. The CPC used to contribute through settling domestic affairs such as development and poverty alleviation, but now we need to further contribute through participation in international affairs and global governance. The world today is full of uncertainty. In response to the confusion of “what happened to the world and what should we do?”, President Xi Jinping delivered well-received speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 17, 2017 and the United Nations Office in Geneva on January 18, in which he proposed the “Chinese solution”16 of “building a community with a shared future for humankind to realize a shared victory”. As a result, China’s human rights cause is more closely connected to the world, and its progress receives more attention from the international society.

IV. A Conclusion of History: There Would Be No Development or Progress in Chinese Human Rights Cause without the Leadership of the CPC

In conclusion, the Chinese people’s “standing up” marks the first great leap of China’s human rights cause, “growing rich” the second and “becoming strong” shall definitely realize the third. From these three leaps, we can draw one important conclusion: that the CPC has led the development and progress of the human rights cause in China.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the human rights cause in China has transformed step by step from theoretical principles and programs into a system and society. One after another historical progresses have been achieved. There can be no denying that various mistakes were made in the development of the Chinese economy, society and human rights over the past 70 years. However, to observe the development of China’s human rights cause, we cannot merely focus on mistakes, the bigger picture also needs to be kept in mind to judge whether the country has gone forward or backward. The historical facts demonstrate that we have not only moved forward, but also made three historical and progressive leaps.

The leadership of the CPC is the fundamental protection for the great leaps in China’s human rights cause. The development of China’s human rights cause shows the huge contribution the CPC has made in promoting and ensuring Chinese people’s human rights, and proves that the realization of human rights in China cannot be separated from the leadership of the CPC. Although mistakes have been made on human rights issues, the course was corrected under the leadership of the CPC. It can be said that the leadership of the CPC is in accordance with the principle of “revering and ensuring human rights”, and it is the most fundamental experience in the summary of the 70-year development of China’s human rights cause.
 

(Translated by LI Xiang)
 

* LI Junru ( 李君如 ), Vice President of China Society for Human Rights Studies, the former Vice President of the Party School of the Central Committee of the C.P.C.

1. Xi Jinping, “Full Speech: 2019 New Year Address by President Xi Jinping,” People’s Daily, January 1, 2019.

2. Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1996), 343.

3. Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1996), 208-209.

4. Ibid., 212.

5. Deng Xiaoping, Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1993), 358.
 
6. Jiang Zemin, Jiang Zemin on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (Special Excerpts) (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2006), 52.

7. Jiang Zemin, Selected Works of Jiang Zemin (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2006), 52.

8. Xi Jinping, “President Xi Jinping’s Congratulatory Letter to 2015 Beijing Human Rights Forum,” People’s Daily, September 17, 2015.

9. Xi Jinping, “President Xi Jinping’s Congratulatory Letter to the International Forum for the 30th Anniversary of Passing Declaration on the Right to Development,” People’s Daily, December 5, 2016.

10. Xi Jinping, “Insist on the Developing Path of Human Rights Following National Conditions and Facilitate People’s All-Around Development,” People’s Daily, December 11, 2018.

11. Xi Jinping, Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2017), 37.

12. Ibid., 38.

13. Ibid., 49.

14. Ibid., 11.

15. Ibid., 57-58.

16. Xi Jinping, The Governance of China (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2017), 539.

 

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