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China’s Human Rights Actions under the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
May 29,2022   By:CSHRS
China’s Human Rights Actions under the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
 
Zuliyati SIMAYI*
 
Abstract: Only on the premise of the safety of life and good health can human beings have the opportunity to fully enjoy and develop various rights, achieve a state of free and comprehensive development and pursue the highest value of human rights. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally. Under the guidance of the “people-centered” human rights concept, China has put people’s life and health in the first place, and safeguards the people’s right to life and health as its primary task and important mission. Facts have proven that under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with General Secretary Xi Jinping at the core, the people’s right to life and health has been guaranteed, which fully demonstrates the value in the “people-centered” human rights concept that people’s interests are above all else.
 
Keywords: the Covid-19 pandemic · life and health · China human rights action
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging around the world, which not only severely threatens the life and health of people in all countries, but also harms their right to development. Under the guidance of their respective governance models and human rights ideas, countries have adopted different strategies and taken actions to fight and control the pandemic and cope with the crisis and minimize the risks to the rights to life, health, development, etc. Countries have their own human rights values and ideas, human rights development paths and human rights protection patterns, so there are inevitably differences in the strategies they adopt and actions they take to fight and control the pandemic and protect human rights. Correspondingly, their capability to guarantee people’s life and health varies. For instance, some countries have lost control of the novel coronavirus or mismanaged the prevention and control measures, which has led to direct conflicts between the government and the people. As a socialist country with Marxism-Leninism as its guiding ideology, China upholds the “people-centered” human rights concept, and always puts people’s life and health first, effectively guaranteeing the right to life and health and other rights of Chinese people of all ethnic groups. In this context, this paper, based on analyzing the fundamentality and importance of the right to life and health, focuses on the “people-centered” human rights concept advocated by China, and elaborates on how China took immediate and effective actions under the guidance of its human rights concept when facing the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
I. The Right to Life and Health in the “People-centered” Human Rights Concept
 
Over centuries, many philosophers and thinkers have made their own judgments on and defined the essential nature of human beings. Karl Marx defined the nature of man as “the totality of all social relations”1 from the perspective of historical materialism. The reason why Marx could make this judgment is he placed mankind in the course of social and historical development and interpreted, analyzed and expounded on issues related to human beings from the perspective of social and historical development. From the perspective of Marxism, the paramount premise for society and history to move forward is neither the “imaginary activities” of imaginary subjects as advocated by Hegel, nor the being of the sensual body that “exists in an isolated state in fantasy” as described by Feuerbach, but the living being and the continuous development of mankind. 
 
People are the main force driving the continuous development of society as well as the only subject to acquire and enjoy the fruits of social development. Throughout the process of social development, people are both the subject and object of social development. It is beyond question that humans play a crucial and important role in social and historical development. As a socialist country with Marxism as its guiding ideology, China has always placed the people in the primary position in overall social development and upholds the “people-centered” human rights concept from the perspective of historical materialism. In essence, China’s “people-centered” human rights concept is to put people in the most important, crucial, significant place with the highest priority and constantly carry forward the country’s human rights cause in line with its basic national conditions and the practical needs of Chinese people of all ethnic groups. In terms of its connotations, China’s “people-centered” human rights concept clarifies that “the rights to subsistence and development are the primary and basic human rights.”2 That is to say, in the process of advancing its human rights cause, China places top priority on ensuring people of all ethnic groups enjoy the right to subsistence. And it promotes the continuous improvement of all other rights. Based on this, it works to achieve the ultimate goal of the free and well-rounded development of every person. Moreover, all human rights are interdependent and inalienable, so China’s “people-centered” human rights concept also clarifies that “overall progress in all rights is a major principle of realization of human rights.”3 In other words, we need to coordinate the protection and development of all rights such as the rights to subsistence and health as well as economic, political, cultural and social rights and promote their balanced progress. Therefore, clarifying the relationship between the right to subsistence and the right to development — the two primary human rights — is particularly crucial for effectively guaranteeing the right to subsistence, ensuring the continuous development of all rights including economic, social, cultural and political rights, and promoting the progress of all rights in a coordinated manner. 
 
In accordance with China’s “people-centered” human rights concept, the rights to subsistence and development are the primary and basic human rights.4 The right to subsistence refers to the subsistence of a nation and its people being sustained and guaranteed in the social sense. The right to development refers to the right of a nation and its people to have their living quality constantly improved and their various needs increasingly satisfied.Doubtlessly, in terms of their relations, the right to subsistence is the foundation of the right to development, while the right to development is the objective of the right to subsistence. Only when a person’s life and health, namely the right to subsistence, is effectively guaranteed can the realization of economic, political, cultural, social and other rights be possible and meaningful. In other words, the continuous development of people’s economic, political, cultural, social and other rights can only be achieved on the precondition that their life and health are effectively guaranteed. Thus, it is not hard to reach a conclusion: the right to life and health has a direct relationship with promoting the continuous development of other rights. This is the fundamental reason why China regards the rights to subsistence and development as the primary human rights in its “people-centered” human rights concept. In his report to the 19th CPC National Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that the Party’s mission in the new era must “follow the tide of the times and respond to the wishes of the people.” In other words, as socialism with Chinese characteristics enters the new era, achieving the right to development means that we need to meet the economic, political, cultural, social and other aspirations and demands of Chinese people of all ethnic groups in the course of advancing the human rights cause, so as to promote the development of economic, political, cultural, social and other rights. However, the primary premise for achieving the aforesaid rights to development lies in ensuring people’s life safety and health, namely, effectively guaranteeing people’s right to subsistence. Facts have proven that the Party and the Chinese government adhere to the “people-centered” human rights concept, endeavor to protect people’s rights to subsistence and development as primary human rights, and do everything they can to safeguard the life and health of Chinese people of all ethnic groups and promote the development of all other rights. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Party and the country have mobilized all available resources and strengths to fight the virus and safeguard people’s life and health. This is because only when the life and health of Chinese people of all ethnic groups are guaranteed can the country meet all other needs of the people and then develop other rights for them.
 
II. China Attaches Great Importance to Safeguarding People’s Life and Health 
 
Protecting people’s life, caring for people’s health, guaranteeing people’s right to subsistence and promoting people’s right to development have long been a priority task of the Party and the country. As early as 1917, Mao Zedong wrote an essay titled A Study of Physical Education under the pen name “Ershiba Huasheng”and published it in New Youth, hoping to inspire Chinese people to pay greater attention to physical exercises and health. In the essay, Mao called for promoting physical exercises and strengthening people’s physical conditions. Essentially, he didn’t merely advocate physical exercises, but aimed to inspire Chinese people’s awareness of health and cultivate healthy people to lay a healthy foundation for the independence of the nation and the liberation of the people. This thought was later verified and acknowledged. In an article, Li Da said that “Mao Zedong called for putting health first… A patriot must have a healthy, robust body.”5 After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Party and the government began to attach greater importance to safeguarding people’s life and health. To this end, long-term efforts and a lot of work have been made to promote the well-rounded development of all rights under the premise that the right to subsistence of Chinese people of all ethnic groups has been effectively guaranteed. In his article Uphold the People-centered Principle and Achieve Safe Development, Hu Jintao clearly pointed out that we should “regard achieving safe development and guaranteeing people’s life and property safety and health as our important responsibility with holistic influence,”6 which once again made protecting and safeguarding people’s life and health a major task of the Party and the country. 
 
As the economy and technology continue to develop, the whole of Chinese society is moving toward modernization. People’s life and health remain a key indicator of modernization. The reason being that physical health is not only a shared value goal pursued by human beings as the main body of social development, but also a fundamental precondition for the free and well-rounded development of every person and an important guarantee for promoting continuous economic and social development and achieving a prosperous nation and a strong country. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping has placed top priority on protecting people’s life and health. In 2014, during an investigation tour to Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, Xi stated that “if we cannot ensure the people’s health, we cannot achieve moderate prosperity in all respects.”7 This statement linked people’s health with the strategic goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In 2015, the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee made institutional arrangements on how to advance the implementation of the Healthy China initiative and better protect people’s health.8 In his speech at the National Health Conference in 2016, General Secretary Xi stressed that “we should prioritize public health… quicken our pace in implementing the Healthy China program, and ensure all-round people’s health. These are the requirements of good health in realizing the Two Centenary Goals and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.”9 The same year, China deliberated on and adopted the Healthy China 2030 blueprint. All of these indicate that the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core always puts people’s health in a basic and important position in the course of realizing the strategic goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. It is even safe to say that people’s health is the solid fundamental force for completing a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. As pointed out in the report of the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, “A healthy population is a key mark of a prosperous nation and a strong country.”10 Facts show that the evolution from Mao Zedong stressing the importance of physical exercises to Xi Jinping emphasizing the fundamental role of people’s health in completing the strategic goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in the new era, not only reflects that the thoughts of Chinese Communists have been passed down in a continuous line and kept pace with the times, but also demonstrates the fact that the CPC has always attached great importance to people’s health and worked hard to make strategic arrangements and specific plans to safeguard and promote people’s health.
 
In 2020, the unexpected outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic posed a severe threat and challenge to people’s life and health. In this context, General Secretary Xi personally gave instructions and made arrangements and led and united Chinese people of all ethnic groups to combat the virus. To fight the pandemic, Xi convened meetings many times to formulate plans and measures to safeguard the life and health of Chinese people of all ethnic groups. When attending a panel discussion of the delegation of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in May, Xi called for efforts to “prioritize people’s life and health” and “put the people and life first and protect people’s life and health at any cost.”11 At an expert meeting in June, Xi pointed out that we should “provide strong support to effectively safeguard people’s health.”12 At a seminar of experts from the educational, cultural, health and sports sectors in September, Xi stressed that we should “place top priority on public health and ensure people’s all-round lifecycle health.”13 Under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core, Party committees and governments at all levels have coordinated their efforts in an orderly way, and Chinese people of all ethnic groups have united together, risen to the challenges, and made all-out efforts to contain the spread of the epidemic, fully safeguarding people’s life and health around the country. 
 
III. Effective Protection of People’s Life and Health 
 
Thanks to the Party and the government’s high attention and concrete actions to safeguard people’s lives and health, not only has the right to subsistence of Chinese people of all ethnic groups been effectively protected, but also other rights have been constantly promoted and developed. Facts show that the Party and the country have always put the life and health of the people first, as evidenced by both the successful battle against the unexpected SARS outbreak fought by Chinese people of all ethnic groups under the leadership of the Party and the government in 2003 and the marvelous speed, scale and efficiency shown by Chinese people led by the Party and the government in the fight against the epidemic caused by a novel coronavirus in 2020. The Party and the government mobilized manpower, materials, technology and resources in a comprehensive way, and made every effort to reduce the negative impact of the epidemic and safeguard all Chinese people’s right to life and health. 
 
In the fight against COVID-19, following China’s“people-centered” human rights concept, the Chinese people carried out the largest-ever medical relief practice since the founding of the PRC under the personal deployment, command and arrangement of General Secretary Xi Jinping. According to the white paper Fighting COVID-19: China in Action released by the State Council Information Office in June 2020, in order to protect people’s life and health, China mobilized huge amounts of personnel: “Within only 45 days, a total of 346 national medical teams composed of 42,600 medical workers and more than 900 public health workers from across the country were dispatched. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army also sent more than 4,000 medical workers to provide assistance, who were mainly responsible for treating patients at three medical institutions including Huoshenshan Hospital. More impressively, all medical teams were formed within two hours of receiving the order, and they arrived at their destinations within 24 hours to immediately carry out medical treatment.”14
 
In terms of materials distribution, the Party and the government made detailed arrangements and full deployments, not only ensuring the sufficient supply of medical materials but also meeting people’s needs in work and life. Considering that the novel coronavirus can spread directly or through aerosol respiratory droplets as well as contact with infected surfaces, masks meeting relevant standards are crucial for both medical workers and ordinary people. Statistics showed that “the daily output of medical N95 masks and medical non-N95 masks increased from 130,000 and 5.86 million in early February to over 5 million and 200 million by the end of April.”15 This enabled the country not only to meet people’s demand for masks, but also to concretely protect people’s right to life and health by blocking the dissemination of the virus. To effectively guarantee people’s needs for production and living materials, statistics showed that “within the 50-plus days from January 27 to March 19, 2020, a total of 928,800 tons of epidemic prevention and control materials and daily necessities were transported from across the country to Hubei via railway, highway, waterway, civil aviation, and express postal services. Production materials such as thermal coal and fuel totaling 1.487 million tons were also shipped.”16 Through those measures, the country effectively guaranteed people’s basic living needs under the premise of safeguarding their lives and health. 
 
In terms of technological support, developments and innovations in medical science and technology are necessary to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this case, clinical treatments need to closely collaborate with vaccine research and epidemic prevention and control. Facts have proven that China always endeavors to satisfy people’s practical needs under the guidance of the “peoplecentered” human rights concept. Specifically, to meet the demand of patients for treatment, the country has employed every means to acquire and reallocate Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) equipment that is necessary to treat seriously ill patients; to meet the demand for vaccine research and development as well as vaccination, several medical research teams have been engaged in the research and development of COVID-19 vaccines in five categories ― inactivated vaccines,recombinant protein vaccines, live attenuated influenza vaccines, adenovirus vaccines, and nucleic acid-based vaccines; for the need of epidemic prevention and control, China has fully utilized big data, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies and platforms to forecast the trend of COVID-19 developments, effectively blocking the spread and dissemination of the epidemic.17 Besides, in the face of the virus, Chinese people of all ethnic groups have stood together as one and made united efforts, fully demonstrating the marvelous Chinese speed and Chinese efficiency in the process of fighting the epidemic. For example, in Wuhan, “the construction of the 1,000-bed Huoshenshan Hospital was completed in 10 days, that of the 1,600-bed Leishenshan Hospital in 12 days, and that of 16 temporary treatment centers providing over 14,000 beds in just over 10 days.”18 Those figures testify not only to the Chinese government’s capacity to take timely and immediate actions to respond to an unexpected epidemic, but also to the fact it pays great attention to and provides a strong guarantee for people’s life and health. 
 
In conclusion, facing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government has always upheld the “people-centered” human rights concept, attached great importance to people’s life and health, and made the guarantee of people’s life and health its first priority. It has taken a series of concrete and effective actions to safeguard and protect Chinese people’s right to life and health and other rights. 
 
(Translated by LIU Haile)
 
* Zuliyati SIMAYI ( 祖力亚提·司马义 ), Member of the Standing Committee of the Party Committee, Vice President, Professor and Doctoral Supervisor of Xinjiang University.
 
1. Marx and Engels, Marx and Engels Selected Works, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 3rd edition, 2012), 135.
 
2. The white paper “Seeking Happiness for People: 70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China,” published on the official website of China’s State Council Information Office, accessed May 1, 2021, http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/2019-09/22/content_5432162.htm. 
 
3. Ibid.
 
4. Ibid.
 
5. Wang Xinyan, Collected Works of Li Da, vol. 16 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2016), 391.
 
6. Hu Jintao, Selected Works of Hu Jintao, vol. 2 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2016), 431.
 
7. Xi Jinping, Actively Understand and Respond to the New Normal of Economic Development, Push Reform and Opening Up and Modernization to a New Level, People’s Daily, December 15, 2014. 
 
8. Xi Jinping, Explanations on the CPC Central Committee’s Proposals for Formulating the 13th Five-Year Plan on National Economic and Social Development, People’s Daily, November 4, 2015.
 
9. Xi Jinping, Place Top Priority on Public Health and Ensure People’s All-round Lifecycle Health, People’s Daily, August 21, 2016. 
 
10. 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 for a New Era, People’s Daily, October 28, 2017.
 
11. Xi Jinping, “Put the People First, Benefit the People, and Implement the People-centered Development Principle in All Decisions, Arrangements and Practices”, People’s Daily, May 23, 2020.
 
12. Xi Jinping, “Forge a Sound Public Health System to Strongly Support the Protection of People’s Health”, People’s Daily, June 3, 2020. 
 
13. Xi Jinping, “Speech at the Seminar of Experts from the Educational, Cultural, Health and Sports Sectors”, People’s Daily, September 23, 2020.
 
14. “Fighting COVID-19: China in Action, website of the State Council Information Office”, accessed May 1, 2021, http://www.scio.gov.cn/ztk/dtzt/42313/43142/index.htm.
 
15. Ibid.
 
16. Ibid.
 
17. Ibid.
 
18. Ibid.
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