Important Features of the Human Rights White Paper in the New Era
June 28,2022   By:CSHRS
Important Features of the Human Rights White Paper in the New Era
FU Zitang*
Abstract: As an important government document that expresses the Chinese government’s position, tells the truth, summarizes historical experience, and publicizes China’s plans, the human rights white paper plays a role in emancipating the mind and lays a solid foundation for building China’s human rights discourse system. Covering a wide range of topics, the white paper always aims to solve people’s immediate practical problems. The human rights discourse system has gradually shown three major theoretical trends: the objectification of language, the simplification of expression, and the autonomy of communication and interaction. With the overall development of China’s human rights cause, the human rights white paper in the new era will continue to play its unique function of goal guidance.
Keywords: historical significance · pragmatic style · theoretical orientation · goal-driven
2021 was a special year as it marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and also the accomplishing of the first centenary goal of its struggle, in which a moderately prosperous society was built in all respects and the problem of absolute poverty was historically solved. The year also marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Human Rights in China, the first white paper on human rights issued by the Chinese government. It is therefore a good opportunity to further summarize and draw lessons from China’s experiences in human rights development so as to contribute Chinese wisdom to promoting the development of human rights worldwide. 
I. Vital Historical Significance of Human Rights White Papers
The white paper, Human Rights in China, was released by the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China on November 1, 1991, fully affirming that human rights were the “dreams in the long-term pursuit of the mankind” and calling human rights “great words,” it pointed out that it was a “long-term historical task of the Chinese people and Chinese government,” and concurrently expressed the view that “the right to subsistence is the primary human right of the Chinese people after long-term struggles.”1 Afterward, the concept of “human rights” gradually became “less sensitive” and it was incorporated into the core documents, the national Constitution and the economic and social development framework. 
On the one hand, the government’s human rights white papers have played the function of ideological emancipation. It has been the appearance and development of human rights white papers that have enabled people to be “less sensitive” about the concept of human rights and to dare to talk about them, changing the situation in which for a long time that the Chinese government “did great deeds in human rights” but “did not speak out” or “did not dare to speak out” about its deeds.
On the other hand, the series of white papers on human rights have laid a solid foundation on which to build China’s human rights discourse. From November 1991 through August 2021, the Chinese government has cumulatively released 142 white papers. Among them, 24 white papers have carried “human rights” in the title, including not merely such annual white papers as Human Rights in China, and Progress in China’s Human Rights Cause, but also ones such as Progress in Human Rights over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China, Seeking Happiness for People: 70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China, The Communist Party of China and Human Rights Protection and Moderate Prosperity in All Respects: Another Milestone Achieved in China’s Human Rights as well as such white papers on specific themes as New Progress in Human Rights in Tibetan Autonomous Region and Human Rights in Xinjiang — Development and Progress. These white papers have not just fully exhibited the development and progress of human rights in China but have also become important documents for the Chinese government to voice its stance, state the facts, and summarize its historical experience and progress. 
II. Distinctive Pragmatic Style of Human Rights White Papers
The themes of the white papers feature distinctive diversity and universality, covering diplomacy, national defense, actual national conditions, and human rights and local affairs. In essence, most of the themes are related to human rights or human rights protection in some way. Therefore, in addition to those with “human rights” in the title, many white papers discuss such keywords as “human rights”, “rights”, “rights and interests”, for instance, Equality, Development and Sharing: Progress of Women’s Cause in the 70 Years Since New China’s Founding, and Equality, Participation and Sharing: 70 Years of Protecting the Rights and Interests of Persons with Disabilities in the PRC; and Freedom of Religious Belief in Xinjiang.
As to the content, the white papers are concerned with the most direct and practical problems cared about by the people, involving not simply such specific content as improved livelihoods, construction of the legal system and judicial safeguards for human rights, but also the human rights conditions of particular groups, such as women, children, the aged, the disabled and ethnic minorities, as well as the human rights conditions in specific parts of the country such as the Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions. 
As to their purpose, the white papers reflect the original aspirations and missions of the Communist Party of China to seek happiness for the people and the development of all mankind. Always upholding the “people-centered” concept of human rights, the white papers insist that “the right to subsistence and the right to development are primary human rights,” the human rights of individuals and the collectives are organically integrated, the realization of human rights be tested by means of the sense of gain and the sense of security of the people, people’s yearning for a better life be taken as the goal of the country’s struggle, and respect and protection for human rights be enhanced. As Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee has said: “People’s happiness is the greatest human right. Since its founding, the Communist Party of China has strived for happiness for the people and development for mankind.” 2
III. Solid Theoretical Orientation of Human Rights White Papers
In the process of releasing the white papers over the past 30 years, China’s academic circles have gradually established a systematic, scientific and complete theory of human rights and a human rights discourse system from concept to practice founded on reason. The human rights white papers have been based on empirical materials, specific data and facts, summarized developments and gradually had a say in specific human rights, laying an important foundation for formulating the complete human rights discourse system in China and hence boosting China’s international influence and right to speak.3
First, objective language. The human rights white papers always adhere to “self-centered, fact-oriented and positive publicity-concentrated” theoretical orientation, chiefly make comparative historical reviews through data, diagrams and examples and prioritize representing the whole process of human rights development. 
Second, expression forms close to life. The specific content of human rights white papers is closely related to people’s daily life, which is helpful to form and popularize human rights discourse among the people. Some concepts mentioned in the white papers can be connected with specific examples of practice, for instance, “the right to freedom from poverty” is connected with “the poverty alleviation campaign.”
Third, independent exchanges and interaction. From the wider perspective, the human rights white papers, as bonds of communication, are not followers of the human rights topics of the Western countries or political slogans, but share China’s programs through the practice of behavioral model, development of rules and guidance of ideas,” featuring authenticity and perceptibility. From microscopic narrower perspective, the increase in the data and examples included in the human rights white papers, the increase of content and length, as well as the narration of independent topics were essentially the results of the two-way interaction between the state and people and between countries, reflecting their respecting and learning from the fine experience of the international community and expanding the content and process of human rights development in China. 
IV. Clearly Goal-driven of Human Rights White Papers
The human rights white papers not only explain the facts and truth of China’s human rights situation to the world and express the basic stance of the Chinese government, they also provide valuable experience for the development of human rights in China. The Implementation Evaluation Report on the National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020) recently completed by the China Society for Human Rights Studies and the Institute of Human Rights of Southwest University of Political Science and Law indicates that the National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020) was implemented in all respects, all of the 168 objectives and tasks were completed and many indexes and tasks were finished ahead of time or overperformed. For the time being, the whole of China is marching toward the second centenary objective of struggling to build a great modern socialist country in all respects. For this reason, three goal orientations should be clarified in continuously giving play to the important role of human rights white papers and protecting human rights in the new era. 
First, coordinate and promote citizen’s rights to political, economic, social and cultural development. The main conflicts of Chinese society in the new era have changed. The people have not simply higher requirements for material and cultural life but also rising demands for democracy, rule of law, fairness, justice, security and a healthy environment. Just as General Secretary Xi Jinping said: “To promote the rule of law in all respects is fundamentally aimed at protecting people’s rights and interests.”4 Human rights are the ultimate value pursuit of rule of law. In the new journey of the new era, the Communist Party of China has profoundly realized that it is not enough to meet people’s basic material and cultural demands, it is required that people’s needs for a “better” life should be satisfied and that no one is allowed to fall behind. Overall and fundamental guarantee of rule of law is indispensable for China to achieve its modernization, realize the goal of human rights and coordinate the development of all rights in the new era. 
Second, properly handle the relations between reform, development and stability. Marx said: “Rights should not exceed the economic structure of the society and the cultural development of the society constrained by the economic structure.”5 Today, China still remains the largest developing country. Despite its monumental achievements in human rights protection, it still faces the problem of unbalanced and inadequate development in some fields. As General Secretary Xi Jinping has stressed, efforts should be made to solve problems of universal concern. “More reforms and innovative measures should be introduced to solve the problems of employment, education, health, social insurance, housing, provision for the aged, food safety, ecological environment and social security, etc., so that the people can have a greater sense of gain, greater sense of sustainable happiness and greater guarantee for their sense of security.”6 It requires the long-term work and permanent endeavors of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government to give full play to the function of the right to development to coordinate human rights development in China. Only in this way can “enjoying sufficient human rights” be truly realized and people’s freedom be fully developed. 
Third, promote the work for security, development and human rights in a balanced way. However, it doesn’t mean that the international community cannot reach cooperation and consensus but should energetically carry forward the values shared by the mankind, namely, peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom, Zero-sum games should be discarded and the building of a community with a shared future for all mankind promoted. The concerted cooperation of the international community is especially called for with the COVID-19 pandemic still ravaging the world advocate and the climate crisis becoming ever more acute. The Chinese government shares China’s human rights experience and programs with the international community via its white papers, which is part of its endeavors to promote cooperation and communication rather than engage in power politics and bullying. Actions rather than simply “sitting and prattling about the general principle” are needed by the modern international community. Countries should practice multilateralism, start with the aim of solving problems, get oriented by tangible achievements, promote the work in security, development and human rights in a balanced way and do all they can to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
To sum up, China has registered glittering accomplishments in human rights protection and increasing improvement of law-based human rights construction over the 30 years since it issued its first white paper, Human Rights in China, on November 1, 1991. For this reason, the international; community should have confidence in China’s human rights development in the new journey of the new era, as it will continue to comprehensively boost the level of human rights protection in the country and its lawbased human rights system in all respects. In the meantime, we should more firmly hold faith in human rights, bear in mind our original aspirations and missions, and continuously endeavor to realize the modernization of law-based human rights.
(Translated by JIANG Lin)
* FU Zitang ( 付子堂 ), Vice President of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, President and Law Professor of Southwest University of Political Science and Law.
1. Human Rights in China 2000, website of the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, accessed August 20, 2021, http://www.scio.gov.cn/zfbps/ndhf/1991/Document/1715811/1715811.htm. 
1. Human Rights in China 2000, website of the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, accessed August 20, 2021, http://www.scio.gov.cn/zfbps/ndhf/1991/Document/1715811/1715811.htm. 
2. Xi Jinping’s Congratulatory Letter to the Symposium at the 70th Anniversary of the Publishing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Chinese government website, accessed on August 20, 2021, http://www.gov.cn/xinwen/2018-12/10/content5347429.html. 
3. Fu Zitang, “Build the Human Rights Discourse System of China,” Human Rights 2 (2015): 8-9. 
4. Xi Jinping, “Unswervingly Upholding Law-based Socialism with Chinese Characteristics to Provide Powerful Legal Guarantee for the Building of a Modern Socialist Country in All Respects,” Chinese government website, accessed August 20, 2021, http://w.gov.cn/xinwen/2021-02/28/content5589323.htm. 
5. Marx and Engels, Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol.3 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 305.
6. Xi Jinping, “Putting People-centered Development Thought into Practice”, Xinhuanet, accessed August 20, 2021, http://w.xinhu6net.com/2020-10/14/c112_09822.htm.
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