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The Logic of Change of the CPC’s Human Rights Discourse Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China
August 05,2020   By:CSHRS
The Logic of Change of the CPC’s Human Rights Discourse Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China
 
MAO Junxiang*& WANG Xinyi**
 
Abstract: Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago, the human rights discourse of the Communist Party of China has been constantly updated. In the early years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC spontaneously formed a collective discourse on human rights with the right to subsistence and self-determination as its core; in the 1980s, in the process of reflection and refutation, the CPC paid more attention to individual rights, and gradually increased the sense of a human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics; since the 1990s, the CPC has combined the specific national conditions and the international environment to form a human rights discourse. The system of human rights discourse has been constructed in terms of the order of priority of human rights protection, path of human rights development, relationship between human rights and sovereignty, and development of the world human rights cause. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the CPC has put forward the idea that “living a happy life is the primary human right” at home and the idea of building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings for the world, and the discourse system of human rights with Chinese characteristics has gradually been improved. The independent variable of the change of human rights discourse of the CPC is the specific national conditions at different stages and the recognition of national identity formed on this basis. The other variable is the international environment and external relations that China is facing.
 
Keywords: human rights · changes of human rights discourse · a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings · Communist Party of China
 
General Secretary Xi Jinping has said that for a long time the Communist Party of China has led the Chinese people in their endeavor to solve the three major problems of “being bullied”, “being hungry” and “being blamed”. After several genera-tions of unremitting efforts, the first two problems have been basically solved, but the third has not been fundamentally addressed.1 In the field of international human rights, China is “blamed” mainly because the human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics is not fully understood by the outside world. The influence of human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics depends on the rationality of the development path of human rights with Chinese characteristics. In the 70 years since the founding of People’s Republic of China, the CPC has led the Chinese people to embark on a path of human rights development in line with China’s national conditions. China has made historic achievements in its human rights protection. The emergence and development of a human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics is inseparable from the changes in the CPC’s understanding of human rights. In other words, the CPC human rights discourse constitutes the fundamental aspect of the human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics.
 
So far, domestic research in the CPC human rights discourse has mainly been focused on the historical sorting and illustration of the significance of its human rights philosophy.2 And its shortcomings consist in the failure to combine the characteristics of the times and the social transformation when analyzing the logic and factors influencing the changes. This thesis holds that its changes are rooted in China’s specific national conditions and the main demands of Chinese society at different stages of development. The key to acquainting the outside world with it consists in clarifying the logic of the changes and influencing factors. And the clarification helps explain the historical legitimacy and realistic rationality of the practice of human rights with Chinese characteristics and their development path. This thesis first demonstrates the value orientation and theoretical basis for the human rights discourse of the Communist Party of China, and then deals with the following issues: the changes in that discourse since the founding of People’s Republic of China, and the important factors prompting those changes.
 
I. The Value Orientation and Theoretical Basis for the Human Rights Discourse of the CPC
 
A. The people’s longing for a better life: the value orientation of the human rights discourse of the CPC
 
The realization of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the people’s longing for a better life has always been the mission of the times shouldered by the CPC. Since its founding, the CPC has made the protection of human rights its primary goal. In the Declaration of the Second National Congress of the Communist Party of China promulgated in 1922, the mission and immediate goals of the CPC were clari-fied, including the protection of workers’ and farmers’ right to vote, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The law on the equality of workers, famers and women was also drafted. In 1923, the Third Congress of the CPC discussed the Draft Programme of the Communist Party of China, which clearly stated that the CPC would “establish real civil rights, and achieve all political freedom and complete real national independence through revolution.” As the founder and leader of the red bases, the CPC began to formulate a series of laws protecting human rights in the red revolutionary bases in the early 1930s.3 During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, it started the practice of human rights protection in the base areas. In 1939, the First Congress of the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region passed the Administration Program of Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region during the Anti-Japanese War, which stipulated that all ethnic groups shall be equal in politics and economy; democratic politics shall be instated and a universal, common, equal and anonymous electoral system adopted; ownership of private property shall be determined.
 
Some base areas independently formulated a series of rules and regulations to protect human rights, including the Shandong Human Rights Protection Regulations (1940), Regulations of Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region on the Protection of Human Rights and Financial Rights (1942), and Implementing Regulations of Bohai District on Human Rights Protection (1943).4 Mao Zedong always emphasized the need to protect the people’s “human rights, financial rights, voting rights, and freedom of speech, assembly, association, thought and belief”.5 The CPC Constitution adopted at the 17th National Congress of the CPC in June 1945 clearly stated in the general outline that “The Chinese Communists must embrace the spirit of serving the Chinese people wholeheartedly and establish extensive ties with the masses of workers, farmers and other revolutionary people.” Mao Zedong pointed out in the Report of the 17th National Congress of the CPC that “standing closely with the Chinese people and serving them wholeheartedly is the sole purpose of this army.”6 During the War of Liberation, the CPC clearly put forward the slogan of “Protecting human rights, rescuing democracy, and completing reunification.”7
 
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC in 1978 ushered in a new historical period of human rights protection. In September 1982, the Report of the 12th National Congress of the CPC emphatically stated that “the state and the society shall protect the legitimate rights and freedoms of citizens.” In the same year, the 1982 Constitution formulated under the leadership of the CPC stipulated the basic rights and obligations of citizens. In September 1997, the Report of the 15th National Congress of the CPC emphasized “respecting and protecting humanrights” for the first time and made it the basic goal of governance.8 In 2004, “The state respects and guarantees human rights” was written into the Constitution. At the 17th National Congress of the CPC held in October 2007, “respecting and protecting Human Rights” was written into the CPC Constitution. In November 2012, the Report of the 18th National Congress of the CPC made “respecting and protecting human rights” one of the new requirements for achieving goal of comprehensively building a moderately well-off society. In October 2017, the Report of the 19th National Congress of the CPC highlighted “strengthening the rule-of-law protection of human rights and ensuring extensive rights and freedoms for the people according to law” as an important aspect of Party’s governance.
 
The declarations, draft program and Party constitution, the SAR regulations and the country’s Constitution, specific rights and universal human rights, political propositions and the principles of state governance — fully demonstrate the changes in the human rights discourse of the CPC. The value orientation of those changes is to realize the human rights ideal of a better life for the people. On December 10, 2018, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out in a congratulatory letter to the symposium to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “The happy life of the people is the greatest human right. From the day of its birth, the CPC has made seeking happiness for the people and development for humanity as the goal of its struggle.” The CPC has taken national independence and national liberation — the urgent needs of the Chinese people during the revolutionary period — as its historical mission, and taken national prosperity and the happiness of the people — the beautiful expectations of the Chinese people during the construction period — as its responsibility of the times. The ultimate value orientation of those missions consists in achieving the better life that the people are longing for and realizing the human rights ideal of all-round human development.
 
B. Marxist human rights thought: the theoretical basis for the human rights discourse of the CPC
 
The founders of Marxism developed human rights thought on the basis of criticizing the bourgeois view of human rights. Marx profoundly revealed the hypocrisy of capitalist human rights in Capital, saying that “The equal exploitation of labor is the primary human right of capital.”9 Engels said in Anti-Dührinɡ that “purportedly one of the most important human rights is the bourgeois ownership.”10 Marx divided the social existence of human history into three types, namely, human dependence, physical dependence, and human free personality. After a profound analysis of capitalism and the pursuit for freedom, he advocated breaking the capitalist system of exploitation, liberating people by eliminating wage labor, and safeguarding the basic human rights of workers. He profoundly exposed the three paradoxes of enlightenment humanrights theory, including the paradox of the purpose and means of individuals and communities, the paradox of the incompatibility between the universality and particularity of human beings, and the paradox of human rights theory deviating from the original intention of human rights, before pointing out “human emancipation” as the key solution transcending such paradoxes.11 He advocated pursuit of “human emancipation” to respond to the requirements of the times and looked toward the free development of all people in the future.12 Marx and Engels envisioned the theoretical framework for the scientific concept of human rights while writing German Ideology and the Communist Manifesto, and answered the question of what real human rights were and how to realize them.13 They emphasized in German Ideology that “human rights are the most common form of rights”14 and in the Communist Manifesto that “the old bourgeois society with classes and class opposition will be replaced by such a union where the free development of all individuals is the condition for humanity’s free development”.15 The “free and equal producers’ union”, also called “the realization of full human rights”, was deemed the “humanitarian goal” to which the great economic movement of the 19th century led.16 The founders of Marxism further pointed out the historicity of human rights, holding that the realization of rights should be dependent on the material conditions of society, and that human rights “must not exceed the economic structure of society and the cultural development resting on it”.17 The CPC is a political party established with Marxism as the action guide and the realization of communism as the supreme ideal. Marxist concepts about the liberation and free development of people and the historical nature of human rights constitute important theoretical sources for the CPC’s “right to survival and development being the primary basic human right”, “combination of universality of human rights and specific national conditions”, “centering on the people” and other human rights concepts and discourses.
 
II. Internal and External Problems and the Development of China’s Human Rights Discourse in the Early Days of the People’s Republic of China
 
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC began to tortuously and strenuously explore human rights protection practices in the new international and domestic environment. Faced with domestic poverty and the complex and challenging external environment, it focused on national security and national survival, and proposed a collective human rights discourse centered on ensuring the survival and development of the people and safeguarding the sovereignty and independence of the country.
 
A. The right to survival discourse directed at meeting subsistence needs
 
In old China, where wars were frequent, people were often plunged into dire straits, “living a life of depravation, without any political rights.”18 The history of China is one in which the right to survival was not guaranteed and the human dignity mercilessly trampled on. The Chinese people were oppressed by the five mountains of “poverty, disease, illiteracy, chaos and dispersion.” According to incomplete statistics, about 80 percent of the people were chronically starving. Several dozen thousand or even several hundred thousand people died of hunger almost every year. In 1947, there were more than 100 million hungry people in China, accounting for 22 percent of the national population.19 Mao Zedong once observed that, “The degree of poverty and depravation of freedom of the Chinese people is rare worldwide.”20
 
In the early days of the People’s Republic of China, the domestic environment took on a peaceful trend, but the country was destitute, with reconstruction to be started from scratch. Since the 1950s, the CPC has led the Chinese people to launch democratic reforms in all aspects of society and established the socialist system, abolishing the feudal land system, eradicating the foundations of the Chinese feudal system, emancipating and developing rural productivity, and promoting a corporate democratic management system to ensure that the workers are the masters of the country. The Marriage Law was promulgated in 1950, to ensure freedom of marriage and equality between men and women; the Constitution was promulgated in 1954, stipulating extensive basic rights for citizens. Meanwhile, the CPC realized that in various social undertakings, “the right to survival had historically become a human rights issue that must be addressed by the Chinese people.”21 In 1959, Mao Zedong wrote in the intra-Party correspondence that “It should be noted that China is a big country with a population of 650 million, and food is the first priority.”22 It can be seen that food and clothing were the simplest aspirations and pursuits of the Chinese people during that period, and the most important tasks of governance for the CPC after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Only by guaranteeing the right to subsistence and making the people masters of the country could there be “human emancipation.” It was because of the specific national conditions during the transition from a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society to a socialist society that the CPC regarded meeting the basic subsistence needs of the people and guaranteeing the right to survival as its primary human rights goals.
 
B. The self-determination discourse with national independence at the core
 
In the 1950s and 1960s, the campaign launched for national liberation and national independence by the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America was in full swing, with the promotion of the United Nations. Self-determination and anti-racial discrimination became the trend of the times. Countries that had already achieved national emancipation through the self-determination movement cherished their sovereignty and independence, and were naturally willing to give moral and political support to the emerging national liberation movements. In fact, it was precisely because of the efforts of many newly independent countries that the UN General Assembly passed a series of resolutions confirming the right to self-determination, including the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960), and Declaration of Principles of International Law on Establishing Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966 clearly stipulated that “all peoples have the right to self-determination.” The majority of colonial countries gained independence one after another, changing the power balance of the international community and improving the international environment of developing countries.
 
The P.R.C faced an intricate international political environment at the onset of its founding. During the Cold War, confrontation between East and West, ideological struggle, border security, the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations and other factors seriously threatened its national security and sovereign independence. Therefore, the CPC resolutely safeguarded national sovereignty, emphasized national self-determination and adhered to the principle of non-interference, creating a peaceful external environment for the survival and development of the Chinese nation and domestic protection of human rights. In June 1949, Mao Zedong stated in his Speech at the Preparatory Meeting of the New Political Consultative Conference that, “China must be independent and liberated, and China’s affairs must be determined and handled by the Chinese people themselves. In no way shall interference by imperialist countries be allowed.”23 In 1953, China, India and Myanmar jointly proposed the five principles of “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefits, and peaceful coexistence” as the code of conduct for bilateral and multilateral relations. In 1955, China promoted the convening of the Asian-African Conference (Bandung Conference). The Final Communiqué of the Asian-African Conference adopted by the Conference covered economic cooperation, cultural cooperation, human rights and self-determination of the participating countries, the issues of the people in their dependent regions, the promotion of world peace and cooperation, and consensus reached in other aspects. Premier Zhou Enlai pointed out after the conference that “opposing racial discrimination, demanding basic human rights, opposing colonialism, demanding national independence, and resolutely safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity have already become the common demands of awakened Asian and African countries and their people.”24 This statement basically represented the general positionof emerging countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America back then, and constituted the core content of the CPC’s discourse on the right to self-determination during this period.
 
III. Reform and Opening-Up in the 1980s and Reflections on Human Rights Discourse
 
In 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee decided to implement reform and opening-up, shifting the focus of national work from class struggle to economic construction, marking China’s identity transformation from a socialist revolutionary country to a socialist modernized country. The realistic background was the severe disaster brought by the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976) to the Party, the country, and the people of all ethnic groups. “On the road of human rights development in China, there have been twists and turns and mistakes. In particular, there were mistakes of large-scale violation of human rights during the “cultural revolution” period.25 With the transformation of national identity, the national work focus and foreign policy were changed accordingly. The shift of China’s thinking from social revolution to social construction ushered in a new situation in the development of its human rights cause. Upholding Marxist positions, viewpoints and methodologies for guidance, the CPC has continuously strengthened the protection of citizens’ basic rights and freedoms, and begun to develop human rights discourses with Chinese characteristics based on self-reflection.
 
A. Ideological innovation and the rise of individual rights discourse
 
In the 1980s, China faced heavy developmental tasks, and the right to survival remained an important part of the CPC’s human rights discourse. In 1984, Comrade Deng Xiaoping clearly pointed out that “Now the needs of several dozen million people in the countryside for food and clothing have not been fully met.”26 He went on to point out that “Poverty is not socialism, and socialism requires the elimination of poverty.” The return to the discourse on the right to survival was irrefutably the result of learning the historical lessons of the “cultural revolution”. From then on, China embarked on a large-scale development-oriented poverty alleviation program that has continued up to now.
 
The most important result of the CPC’s reflection on human rights concepts was the rise of individual rights discourse denounced as “bourgeois ideology” during the cultural revolution. The CPC gradually reflected on the painful lessons of the cultural revolution trampling on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as well as the abnormal conditions of life within the Party, emphasizing that the Party and the state must protect and guarantee the human rights of the Chinese people and ensure that all the people truly enjoy human rights.27 In 1980, Deng Xiaoping emphasized that, “Politically, we must fully promote the people’s democracy and ensure that all the people really enjoy the right to manage the country through various effective forms. In particular, we must guarantee their right to participate in the grassroots local politics, various enterprises and undertakings, and all civil rights.”28 In 1982, “The State and society protects the citizens’ right and freedom” was written in the Report of the 12th National Congress of the CPC. In addition, the CPC also led the formulation of a series of human rights protection legislation to effectively protect civil rights. On January 1, 1980, the Electoral Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses was officially implemented, effectively guaranteeing citizens’ right to vote and being elected. The 1982 Constitution stipulates the basic rights and obligations of citizens, and for the first time puts the basic rights of citizens before national institutions. Therefore, it can be seen that in protection of human rights, the CPC has not ignored people’s social needs because of restrictions from their natural needs. Instead, it has chosen to fully safeguard the people’s freedom and development rights.29
 
B. Input of external ideas and refutation of the western human rights discourse
 
With the continuously advanced reform and opening-up, Western values and ideologies continue to flood into China. The CPC has put forth a socialist human rights concept on the basis of critically analyzing Western human rights concepts, emphasizing that socialism also entails freedom, democracy, and full human rights, and taking democracy and the rule of law as the fundamental form for achieving socialism.30 Deng Xiaoping pointed out the political paradox of the advanced nature of socialist human rights against the human rights of the West “serving hegemony”.31 He said that “What are human rights? The first issue is how many people should enjoy human rights? Do human rights belong to the minority, or the majority, or even the people of the whole country? The human rights of the West are essentially different from that of ours, because of different opinions.”32 At the Sixth Plenary Session of the 12th CPC Central Committee held in September 1986, Deng Xiaoping stressed that “The discussion of some foreign bourgeois scholars, for example, about our lack of human rights, most wanted us to liberalize, including saying that we have no human rights. They oppose what we have to insist on, and want us to change. We will continue to identify questions and solve them according to our own reality.”33 In response to the international situation of increasing human rights diplomacy against China by Western countries, Deng Xiaoping clearly stated in 1989 that “na-tional rights are much more important than human rights,”34 and that “it is ridiculous for countries of power politics to criticize the human rights of other countries.”35 Jiang Zemin also pointed out at the National Meeting of Publicity Officials held on July 20, 1989 that “We must use the basic viewpoints of Marxism to correctly and intelligibly explain democracy, freedom, and human rights, so that our officials and the masses, especially our young students, are educated.”36 In a document at the end of 1990, the CPC Central Committee stated that: “We must vigorously publicize our country’s views on human rights, democracy and freedom, as well as the true situation of safeguarding human rights and implementing democracy, so as to hold the banner of human rights, democracy and freedom in our own hands.”37
 
The CPC’s human rights discourse in the 1980s was distinctively characteristic of the times, embodying both reflection on existing ideologies and refutation of Western human rights diplomacy. Reflection and refutation meant its independent development under the premise of recognizing universal human rights: reflection emphasized the respect for and protection of universal human rights, and the return of individual rights discourses to official discourses and folk discourses laid the foundation for integration of universal human rights principles. Refutation emphasized the socialist human rights concept, and the gradually strengthened sense of discourse with Chinese characteristics, determined the direction of the development path in line with specific national conditions. Since then, the CPC has begun to consciously uphold integrating the universality of human rights with specific national conditions, providing a solid practical foundation for constructing the human rights theory and discourse system with Chinese characteristics in the 1990s.
 
IV. Response to the Western Human Rights Diplomacy and Construction of Human Rights Discourse System in the 1990s
 
In the 1990s, China was faced with major changes in the international and domestic situation. On the one hand, after more than a decade of reform and opening-up, the 14th National Congress of the CPC determined in 1992 to “build a socialist market economy,” broadening the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. A socialist market economy entails ever strengthened individual autonomy and awareness of rights, and a growing need of the public for legislation and policies on human rights protection. The ruling party must develop new theories to guide the practice of human rights protection and respond to the people’s demands for rights. On the other hand, the upheaval in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union ended the bipolar pattern, and the world was in the midst of shift from the old pattern to the new one. The Western countries stepped up human rights diplomacy to export Western ideology. In particular, after the drastic changes in Eastern Europe, China as the world’s only major socialist country became the target of Western human rights diplomacy and faced tremendous international pressure. In this context, the CPC constructed a human rights discourse system which is relatively complete in terms of the priority of human rights protection, the development path for human rights, the relationship between human rights and sovereignty, and the development of international human rights in view of specific national conditions and the international environment. It has promoted legislation, policies, and practices on human rights protection at home, and internationally, it has guarded against the human rights discourse offensive of the West, and safeguarded China’s national interests.
 
A. Priority of human rights protection: the rights to survival and development are the primary basic human rights
 
For a long time, the Western concept of human rights centered on individual liberalism has had apparent discourse advantages in international human rights. This has also been recognized to some degree in some non-Western countries originally under Western colonial rule. Western countries leveraged economic aid and other means to force some countries to accept their so-called democracy, rule of law and good governance, emphasizing the development model of individual freedom before people’s livelihoods. The Western economic reform recipe for developing countries in transition was the “Washington Consensus” touted by neoliberals, including open markets, trade liberalization and privatization.38 Politically, the Western recipe encourages direct elections, multi-party rotation, judicial independence, guarantee of free speech and civil society.
 
The Marxist view of human rights holds that human rights protection is historical and specific, and dependent on social and economic development. In the 1990s, China was a developing country with a population of more than 1.2 billion a considerable part of which still lived in poverty. Meeting the needs of more than one billion people for food and clothing was inevitably the fundamental basis for China’s formulation of protection policies and development plans for human rights. The CPC insists on responding to the most urgent rights demands of the most people in the practice of human rights protection, proposing that “the right to survival and the right to development are the primary basic human rights.”39 This is the human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics. In the 1990s, Jiang Zemin repeatedly emphasized that “the national condition has determined that the right to survival and the right to development are the fundamental and most important human rights in China.”40 Hu Jintao also emphasized that “the protection of the people’s right to survival and right to development should be given top priority in protecting human rights.”41 China recognizes the interdependence and indivisibility of human rights as emphasized in the Vienna Dec-laration and Programme of Action, and holds that the right to survival and the right to development are the foremost basic human rights. It does not deny respect for or protection of other rights. Jiang Zemin clearly stated that “Collective human rights and individual human rights, economic, social, and cultural rights are closely combined and coordinated with civil and political rights. This is an inevitable path suited to China’s national conditions and is therefore suited to development of human rights.”42
 
B. Development path of human rights: combining universality of human rights with specific national conditions
 
The universality of human rights consists in subjects and standards, as widely reflected in international conventions on human rights. Most countries have ratified or agreed to a number of international conventions on human rights, showing the acceptance of the universal principles of human rights in the international community. Since the 1990s, some Western countries have ignored the differences in human rights issues resultant from the specific conditions and practices of different countries. “Holding the banner of so-called democracy, freedom, human rights, rule of law, and good governance, they denounce the cultures and civilizations of some countries and nations, and vigorously promote their social systems and values.”43 This practice has been a stealthy replacement of concept, replacing the universality of human rights standards with that of human rights systems and models to force Western human rights development systems and models.
 
The CPC has upheld unification of the universality and particularity of human rights, and advocated protecting and realizing all human rights on the basis of respecting the universal principles of human rights and the specific national conditions of each country. In 1991, the Chinese government made it clear that “the road of any country to the realization and protection of human rights must not be separated from its history and specific national economic, political and cultural conditions.”44 Jiang Zemin emphasized that “China respects the universal principles of human rights in the international community, and believes that the world is rich and diverse. The historical traditions, economic development, and political and social systems of different countries are different, so the promotion and protection of human rights must be in line with their respective national conditions. It is impossible for them to follow one pattern.”45 Hu Jintao also stressed that “We will continue to uphold the people-orientation principle, respecting the universality of human rights, and proceeding from the basic national conditions to prioritize the protection of the people’s right to survival and right to development in protecting human rights. We shall protect the right to equal participation and equal development according to law on the premise of promoting rapid economic and social development.”46
 
China’s position on the universality and particularity of human rights has also been generally recognized by the international community. In 1993, China participated in promoting the adoption of the Bangkok Declaration by Asian countries. Bangkok Declaration advocates that, “despite the universality of human rights, it should be noted that each country and region has its own characteristics and different historical, cultural and religious backgrounds, so human rights should be viewed in accordance with the process of continuously revised international norms.” As the Vice Chairman of the Second World Congress on Human Rights, China participated in drafting the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. While emphasizing the universality of human rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action also affirms that “the significance of national and regional characteristics and different historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds must be considered.”
 
C. The relationship between human rights and sovereignty: respect for national Sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs
 
As the Cold War drew to an end, the world’s bipolar pattern disintegrated, and the ideological collisions between the East and the West became more frequent. The West began to put pressure on China, using “human rights” as an excuse to interfere in its internal affairs. US scholar Zbigniew Brzeziński states in his book the Great Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century that “Advocating respect for human rights has a huge impact and a far-reaching significance in that it accelerates the decline of communism. Human rights is the most attractive political notion in the contemporary era. The clamoring for respecting human rights by the West has put all Communist countries on the defensive.”47
 
On the relationship between human rights and sovereignty, there are considerable differences between China and the West. Western scholars generally believe that since the United Nations Charter emphasizes respect for and protection of basic human rights and freedoms, national sovereignty should be restricted by international protection of human rights and thus human rights no longer belong to the realm of domestic jurisdiction. Based on their historical lessons of foreign colonial rule, many emerging countries are very sensitive to the human rights interventions advertised by the West, and they adopt a negative attitude to the concept of interference in internal affairs. Meanwhile, they resolutely oppose Western country intertwining human rights concerns with other interest conflicts.48 After the Cold War, Western neo-interventionist theories such as “human rights above sovereignty” and “human rights without borders” raised considerable commotion. Leveraging this theory, Western countries held the banner of humanitarian intervention and brutally violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries. For example, the 1999 Kosovo War being a case in point.
 
Since 1990, some Western countries have used the human rights issue to interfere in China’s internal affairs at the United Nations Human Rights Commission, submitting 11 drafts in a row for reviewing its human rights situation. In addition, they have also linked human rights to trade, in an attempt to put pressure on China with trade measures. The human rights diplomacy of Western countries with China depends to a great extent on the development of their domestic politics, and carries strong political meaning.49 In this regard, the CPC and the Chinese government advocate that the state bears the primary responsibility for protecting human rights, but national sovereignty must be respected and use of human rights issues to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries must be opposed. In 1992, Jiang Zemin stressed that “In the final analysis, human rights issue belongs to the sovereignty of a country. We firmly oppose the use of human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”50 He also said in an interview in 1995 that, “We are opposed to adopting double standards on human rights issues, politicizing human rights issues, and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs on the pretext of human rights.”51 In 2007, Hu Jintao reiterated in the Report of the 17th National Congress of the CPC that “We insist on the equality of all countries regardless of size, strength and wealth, and respect for the right of their people to choose their own development path. We should not interfere in other country’s internal affairs or impose our will on others.”52
 
D. human rights development worldwide: dialogue and cooperation
 
Dialogue and cooperation in the field of international human rights are not only the principles of international exchanges featuring mutual respect and equal treatment, but also the basic requirements of the principles of national sovereignty and international cooperation. It is also the basic rule to follow when handling the relationship between national sovereignty and international human rights mechanisms. However, since the 1990s, some Western countries have assumed that the Western democratic system means the end of history, and forcibly promoted the Western human rights model, ignoring or even denying the particularity and rationality of human rights concepts and human rights systems in other countries. They have on many occasions “named and shamed” some countries for their human rights situations, triggering political confrontation.
 
China always adheres to mutual respect and treats other countries as equals, safeguards the diversity of human civilization, and advocates the elimination of divergences in human rights concepts and systems through international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. In 1991, China declared that “China advocates strengthening international cooperation in the field of human rights on the premise of mutual understanding and seeking common ground while reserving differences.”53 Since then, all white papers on human rights issued by China have advocated, without exception, “dialogue and cooperation with the international community on human rights issues on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” However, some Western countries have always held high the “Western yardstick” and blindly mistaken international human rights dialogues as a one-way process of inculcation and acceptance,54 ignoring their function of two-way communication. In this regard, Jiang Zemin said during a visit to the United States in 1997 that “Countries have different views on human rights issues and should choose dialogue instead of confrontation. We are willing to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with other countries to jointly promote the cause of human rights in the world.”55 In 2001, Hu Jintao emphasized in a speech that “we will continue to carry out exchanges and cooperation with countries worldwide on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to deepen understanding, expand consensus, learn from each other, and advance together.”56
 
As the most important platform for multilateral human rights diplomacy within the United Nations system, the Human Rights Commission should be the main mechanism for countries to launch human rights dialogue and cooperation. However, it has been controlled by certain Western countries for a long time and been reduced to a tool for ideological and political struggle. Endless political confrontation and selective supervision within the Human Rights Commission has not only led to inefficiency in its work, but also its departure from the original intention for its establishment. The Bangkok Declaration advocates that “it must be recognized that human rights promotion should be achieved through encouragement on the basis of cooperation and consensus, rather than imposing incompatible values through confrontation.” The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action also emphasizes that “strengthening international cooperation in human rights is essential to fully achieve the tenets of the United Nations”. In this context, the call for reforming the UN human rights mechanism grew louder. On June 7, 2005, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued “Paper of China’s Position on UN Reform”, emphasizing that “China agrees with and supports reform of the UN human rights institution. The key to the reform is to reverse the status quo of politicizing human rights issues and renounce double standards so as to reduce and avoid confrontation and promote cooperation.” China’s proposition won the support of Cuba, India, Pakistan and other developing countries.57 In September 2005, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the proposal to establish a Human Rights Council at the World Summit. On March 15, 2006, the 60th UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 60/251, for establishing the Human Rights Council. The resolution clearly emphasized that in review of human rights issues, efforts should be made to ensure universality, objectivity, non-selectivity and elimination of double standards and politicization and that the protection and promotion of human rights should be based on cooperation and sincere dialogue. It can be seen that, with the efforts of China and other developing countries, “equality and mutual respect, elimination of double standards, and de-politicization”, “dialogue and cooperation” and other propositions have become the mainstream in the international human rights discourse.
 
V. Theoretical Self-Confidence and the Dissemination of China’s Hu- man Rights Ideas in the New Era
 
After the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, socialism with Chinese characteristics entered a new era. China’s GDP has ranked second in the world for many years, and the people’s lives have improved significantly. Since the founding of The P.R.C nearly 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty, and the world’s largest social security system, education system, and health system have been established. Meanwhile, we are facing unprecedented changes in the world. The Report of the 19th National Congress of the CPC pointed out that the world faces “growing uncertainties and destabilizing factors. Global economic growth lacks energy; the gap between rich and poor continues to widen; hotspot issues arise often in some regions; and unconventional security threats like terrorism, cyber-insecurity, major infectious diseases, and climate change continue to spread. As human beings we have many common challenges to face.”58 In this context, General Secretary Xi Jinping put forward human rights concepts such as development being people-oriented, the Belt and Road Initiative and the building of a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings, further improving the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics and contributing Chinese wisdom and programs to the reform and construction of the global system for human rights governance.
 
A. Innovative discourse: people’s happy life is the greatest human right
 
In the new era, the main contradiction in Chinese society is “that between the people’s ever-growing need for a better life and the unbalanced and inadequate development.” The Chinese people’s pursuit of a better life has become the driving force for the development of the Chinese society and value orientation for the protection of human rights in China. Seeking happiness for the people is the original aspiration of the CPC in governance. On the basis of basically realizing the people’s right to survival, efforts will be enhanced to realize the people’s right to development, and improving people’s living standards is deemed the primary mission of the ruling party.59 General Secretary Xi Jinping said in 2012 that, “The People’s longing for a better life is the goal of our struggle.”60 In December 2018, Xi Jinping clearly stated in his letter to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “A happy life is the greatest human right. From the day of its birth, the CPC has upheld seeking happiness for the people and development for humanity as its goal of struggle.”
 
After the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the CPC “summed up the historical experience, leveraged the achievements of human civilization, persisted in combining the universal principles of human rights with the actual situation of China, and continuously pursued innovation in the development of human rights concepts. It has formulated a new philosophy for human rights development with people at the center, with the basic human rights the right to survival and the right to development, and comprehensive strengthening of rule-of-law as the path, and comprehensive and coordinated development of human rights as the goal.61 With “happy life for the people” as the core, the philosophy is the inheritance and development of the CPC’s human rights discourse since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
 
The judgment of a “happy life for the people as the greatest human right” has deepened the CPC’s concept of human rights from three aspects, namely, the subject of rights, the content of the rights and state obligations. First, it embodies affinity to the people as the subject of rights. The social ideal pursued by Marxism is the elimination of alienation, the emancipation of the proletariat and the entire human race, and the comprehensive and free development of all individuals.62 “Affinity to the people is the most distinctive character of Marxism. Always staying with the people and striving for their interests is the fundamental difference between Marxist parties and other parties.”63
 
Xi Jinping has pointed out that the “Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era must adhere to the ‘people-centered’ development thinking, to continuously promote the comprehensive development of the people and their common prosperity.”64 The White Paper Seeking Happiness for People: 70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China released by the State Council Information Office of China in 2019 clearly stated that “promoting free and comprehensive development is the pursuit of the highest value for human rights.”65 “Human rights are the rights of human beings; they are not the rights of abstract people but real people; they are not the rights reserved for a few, but the rights of all the people, they are not the excuse of some to punish others, but the right to extend happiness to all the people.”66
 
Therefore, “a happy life for the people is the greatest human right”, and the specific manifest of Marxist theory “human emancipation” and “comprehensive and free development of mankind” in the practice of human rights protection in China in the new era.
 
Second, it embodies the broadness of the content of rights. “The ever-growing desire of the people for a better society not only entails higher requirements for material life, but also indicates increasing demands on democracy, rule of law, fairness, justice, security and the environment.”67 In the traditional Western human rights discourse, happiness is the core content of rights. The United States Declaration of Independence clearly emphasizes that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Similar provisions can also be found in Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution. However, unlike the West that juxtaposes life, freedom and happiness, its provision on a “happy life” emphasizes the comprehensive and free development of the people, and includes the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. The comprehensive development of mankind is a concept with extremely rich connotations, which are manifested in Marxism as the comprehensive development of human activities, the comprehensive enrichment of social relations, and the free development of personality.68 Therefore, “a happy life” can be deemed to have deepened the thought of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action by regarding them as being inseparable and interconnected. Again, it embodies the high level of the scope of state obligations. “A happy life” requests that the obligation of the state to respect, guarantee and realize human rights be the “minimum core obligations”, which means that “each state party has the responsibility to assume the minimum core obligations to ensure that the realization of rights reach the basic level.69 Therefore, if the “minimum core obligation” with meeting the demand for food and clothing at the core is reasonable for an era when the main contradiction in society is that between the growing material and cultural needs of the people and the backward productive forces, ensuring a happy life constitutes the core of national obligations in the new era.
 
B. Normative power: China’s approach for international human rights governance
 
The Report of the 19th National Congress of the CPC pointed out that, “This is what socialism with Chinese characteristics entering a new era means… It means that the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization. It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence; and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”70 In the new era, China’s wisdom and approach on developing human rights in the world are rooted in the CPC’s understanding of a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings. In 2013, Xi Jinping pointed out that “living in the same time and space where history and reality meet, the world is becoming more and more a community with a shared future.”71 In the face of the unprecedented changes worldwide in the past century, no country alone can cope with the challenges of governance deficit, trust deficit, peace deficit and development deficit faced by mankind. Therefore, after the 18th National Congress of the CPC, Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road Initiative featuring consultation, joint construction and benefit-sharing, construction of a new international relationship and a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings.
 
The proposal of the concept of a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings shows that “a global value aimed at addressing the common challenges of mankind has begun to take shape and gradually gaining international consensus.”72 In October 2017, Xi Jinping pointed out in the Report of the 19th National Congress of the CPC that “building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings, and building a world of lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, openness and inclusiveness, and cleanness and beauty.” This has become the fundamental compliance of the reform in international human rights governance. First, safeguarding “lasting peace” and “universal security” in the world is the prerequisite for international human rights governance. As we all know, the international human rights mechanism since World War II was based on reflection on the relationship between peace and human rights. At present, regional armed conflicts are frequent, and global traditional security issues such as ecological and environmental security, terrorism, disease spread, and transnational crime are emerging one after another, seriously threatening the international order and human survival. In this context, all countries should bear in mind Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” Second, realizing that “common prosperity” for all mankind is the basic value of international human rights governance. Common prosperity means the need to overcome the development philosophy of individual interests and seek the interests of different countries based on the principle of cooperation for a win-win situation, so as to realize the transfer from the interests of individual countries to the common interests of all mankind. It means that countries should not engage in beggar-thy-neighbor or zero-sum games, or deprive the right of other countries’ people to develop and pursue happiness in responding to global governance crises.73 At present, China’s Belt and Road Initiative featuring consultation and joint construction is aimed at “integrating the fundamental interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of peoples from other countries.” The so-called “America First” policy places national interests above the international community. Essentially, it indicates that human development interests of the US are more important than those of other countries, which is contrary to the human rights spirit of equality all people in dignity and rights. Once again, “openness to and inclusiveness” of various modes is the basic principle of international human rights governance. Countries need to exercise dialogue and cooperation on the premise of recognizing the diversity of civilizations, respecting the particularity of human rights concepts and development paths, respecting the right of people in other countries to independently choose their own development path, and opposing coercive or even forceful measures aimed at forcing other countries to change their own development policies. Finally, maintaining a “clean and beautiful” ecological environment is the basis for sustainable development of international human rights governance. Global climate change and environmental degradation not only endanger our survival and security, but also seriously affect the right of our future generations to sustainable development. In terms of sustainable development, a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings emphasizes not only intra-generational equality, but also inter-generational equality; in solving global ecological dilemmas, it emphasizes not only individual responsibility of the countries, but also the common responsibility of all humanity. The Future We Want, the result released by the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro reaffirmed that “sustainable development is the shared responsibility of every country, every organization, and everyone.”
 
A Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings focuses on individual values, as well as the shift in individual values and the values of all mankind. “We can overcome individualism, supremacy of interests, and hegemony, and thus have a world historical significance that transcends the development path of Western modernization.”74 After its proposition, this concept has received positive responses from the international community. It has been included in the resolutions of the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council on many occasions, including the Security Council Resolution 2344 in 2017, the two resolutions of “economic, social and cultural rights” and “food rights” at the 34th meeting of the Human Rights Council in 2017, and resolution on “promoting win-win cooperation in human rights” of the 37th meeting of the Human Rights Council in 2018. It can be seen that China’s active participation in international human rights cooperation has played a demonstrative, regulatory and guiding role as a normative force in international human rights governance.75
 
VI. Conclusions
 
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC has completed a comprehensive and vivid discourse change on the road to protecting human rights with Chinese characteristics, upholding Marxist thought on human rights for guidance, and starting from the basic national conditions of socialism with Chinese characteristics and people’s longing for a better life. Denigration of human rights as “the bourgeois ideology” has given way to their preliminary recognition in governance concept and by civil society; the initial construction of human rights theory and discourse system has progressed to the external dissemination of human rights discourse in the new era.
 
After systematically reviewing the changes in the CPC’s human rights discourse over the past 70 years, we can draw several conclusions. First, so far as the trajectory of changes is concerned, it has undergone a transformation from spontaneity to reflection, from refutation to construction, from defense to output, from emphasis on the right to survival to adherence to the rights to survival and development as the primary human right(s), from emphasis on collective human rights to highlight of individual human rights, and then to a system that takes into account domestic human rights and the future of all mankind. There is a constant mainline in the changes, that is, the CPC’s human rights protection. Second, as far as the dynamics of change are concerned, the specific national conditions at different stages of China’s historical development and the changes in its awareness of national identity are internal factors influencing changes in the CPC’s human rights discourse, while external relations and the international environment are external factors influencing such changes. Although external relations can affect the focus of the CPC’s human rights discourse to a certain extent, they are not enough to fundamentally change the logic of its changes. The CPC’s judgment of China’s specific national conditions and development direction on the basis of accurately grasping the characteristics of the times is the prerequisite for the transformation of the recognition of China’s national identity. This change has brought about changes in domestic and foreign policies, especially human rights protection policies. It is the fundamental influencing factor in the evolution of the CPC’s human rights discourse and the continuous improvement of its system. 
 
Looking into the future, the constant updating of China’s human rights discourse by the CPC is conducive to improving domestic human rights protection, achieving “a happy life for the people”, promoting the reform of the international system for human rights governance, and building a Community with a Shared Future for Human Beings. Xi Jinping said that “Everything the CPC does is aimed at seeking happiness for the Chinese people, the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and peace and development for humanity.”76 This sentence profoundly reveals the universal significance of the changes in the CPC’s human rights discourse.
 
(Translated by QIAN Chuijun)

* MAO Junxiang ( 毛俊响 ), Professor and Executive Director of Central South University Human Rights Center.
 
** Wang Xinyi ( 王欣怡 ), Associate Researcher of Central South University Human Rights Center. This thesis constitutes a staged result of “Research on the Generation Path of International Human Rights Discourse Rights and China’s Discourse Rights”, a general project under China National Social Science Foundation.
 
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