The Three-dimensional Model of “Construction-Translation-Communication” for the Construction of a Human Rights Discourse System with Chinese Characteristics in the Post-pandemic Era
September 17,2022   By:CSHRS
The Three-dimensional Model of “Construction-Translation-Communication” for the Construction of a Human Rights Discourse System with Chinese Characteristics in the Post-pandemic Era
JIN Ruhua* & YANG Mingxing**
Abstract: Human rights have always been the focus of disputes between China and the West. To make a better China story about human rights and enhance China’s international discourse power in the field of human rights, we propose the text construction, translation and communication path of the construction of the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics from the cross-disciplinary perspective. Based on the examples of prevention and control of the COVID-19 pandemic under the concept of putting people first, mainstream diplomatic linguistic data relevant to the fight against the novel coronavirus was collected through the internet. The human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics is constructed through a variety of texts focusing on putting the people first, the right to life, the right to health, the right to information, the right to privacy, the right to work and a sense of a community with a shared future for human beings. The core concepts of human rights have experienced the deepening process of decontextualization, abstraction and theorization to gradually conform to the expression habits of international audiences. The international communication effect is mainly positive in civil society. It shows that the construction of China’s human rights discourse system and the governance of international human rights discourse have achieved preliminary results. To enhance China’s discourse power on human rights, we need to add an interdisciplinary approach.
Keywords: China’s discourse power on human rights · construction · translation · communication · fighting against the covid-19 pandemic
China has made continuous progress in its human rights cause, but its human rights discourse is still subject to the Western-dominated world opinion. How to break through the constraints on its discourse and improve the expression and communication of its human rights theories and practice is a key issue that needs to be solved. By reviewing the literature on the human rights discourse at home and abroad, we’ve found that some disciplines, especially law and philosophy, have contributed their own disciplinary frameworks for the systematic construction of the human rights discourse.1
The inequality in the discourse power between China and the West on human rights mirrors the injustice of the international order. As Chowdhury said,2the main drawback of the existing international human rights discourse is that the human rights are often “kidnapped” by capital and power due to the ignorance of the decisive role of international economic order and social structure in human rights by the international human rights law, which further exacerbates the inequality of human rights discourse between the developed and the developing countries. This necessitates the protection and innovation of China’s human rights the discourse, and the establishment of a more equal, just and reasonable international discourse on human rights. Therefore, China should reveal the inequity of the international human rights discourse with positive attempts to make improvements, contributing its own human rights wisdom to the world’s human rights cause.
China has protected the human rights of its citizens in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been more active and influential in its discourse on human rights during the pandemic. China has shared with the world its human rights protection measures and initiatives, providing its solutions for the improvement of the international human rights order. For a more detailed investigation of how China tells the story of human rights protection with Chinese characteristics in the fight against COVID-19, this paper, based on real cases and by use of the interdisciplinary methods of linguistics, translation and communication, analyzes the text construction, cross-cultural translation and communication on human rights, overcoming the shortcomings of the above-mentioned research and providing an interdisciplinary approach for the construction of the human rights discourse system in China.
I. Framework: The Three-dimensional Model of “Construction-Translation-Communication”
A three-dimensional model of construction, translation and communication is employed for the building of a diplomatic discourse system.3 The model holds that the construction of the discourse system of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics includes discourse construction (text generation/Chinese expression), discourse translation (foreign language transformation/expression) and discourse communication (cross-cultural presentation). In this model, the source language and the translation system interact to form the reproduction process and construction of the discourse on the level of text and the generation and reconstruction of meaning. The target language has to balance the communication characteristics of the intended foreign audience with the political and cultural implications of the source language, and link China to the foreign countries, so as to achieve the required effect. It needs to be easily understood by the recipient while being as faithful as possible to the source discourse. The quality of the discourse translation will directly affect the effect of the Chinese discourse construction and communication in the international community. In return, the communication system can serve as the feedback mechanism for China’s diplomatic discourse so that it can be continuously updated, reconstructed and expanded while retaining its own characteristics, and being open and inclusiveness. In a word, the “construction-translation-communication” link is a dynamic interactive process that integrates, connects, and coordinates the construction of the diplomatic discourse system, with its unique advantages.
The three-dimensional model is chosen based on its interdisciplinary advantages. The “construction-translation-communication” model covers at least three disciplines: linguistics, translation and (international) communication. The interdisciplinary nature of the model breaks the limitation of the partial, isolated and single research on diplomatic discourse under the current disciplinary barriers (e.g., linguistics, law, communication, etc.), and is more consistent with the interdisciplinary nature and the complex sensitivity of diplomatic discourse (including the discourse on human rights).4 Therefore, the interdisciplinary perspective enables us to accurately and comprehensively comprehend, understand and evaluate the situation, laws and behaviors of China’s diplomatic discourse, providing integrated solutions and references for further improving China’s international discourse power. It finds expression in China’s COVID-19 human rights discourse characterized by its concept of putting people first.
II. Corpus: External Discourse in China’s Response to COVID-19
The anti-COVID-19 discourse is one of the typical cases of China’s Human Rights Discourse. “Putting People First” is the starting point and fundamental purpose of the CPC as well as the core concept of China’s human rights development path.5 China has made concentrated efforts to treat and cure the infected people, curb the spread of COVID-19 around the world, and work with other countries to fight the COVID-19 and recover the economy to reduce the negative impact of the global pandemic. It depicts the true picture of China’s practice of putting people first and embodies the human rights concept of putting people first.6 Discourse is an important part of social practice, and the anti-pandemic measures are inevitably reflected in the practice of anti-pandemic discourse.7 Therefore, China’s anti-pandemic discourse practice centers around the human rights concept of putting people first, which has become an important part and vivid embodiment of China’s discourse on human rights. Moreover, the pandemic prevention and control of countries can reshape the socioeconomic structure and soft power of their own, which further affects the international health governance pattern to a certain extent. It is quite clear that China’s remarkable achievements in fighting against the pandemic are gradually adjusting and reshaping the international discourse on human rights. In view of this, it is of great significance to study how China explains its human rights concept and its global importance through the narrative of the anti-pandemic practice to strengthen the influence of its human rights discourse.
The research should be made on the corpus source including the written materials from home and abroad related to the pandemic. There are numerous and complex external discourse practices of China’s fight against COVID-19, while in this paper, analysis is made only on the typical, representative and innovative discourse and cases mainly related to the heads of state, government agencies and official media. Considering that China’s Human Rights Discourse is part of the elite discourse, the corpus dominated by or accepted by the authorities is more representative and authoritative than that by the non-governmental.
White papers, policy documents, speeches, reports and comments of official institutions (the State Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc.), leaders and heads of government, and mainstream media (China Daily, Xinhua News Agency) supervised by the Central Government (see Table 1) should be given preference in serving as the source of the text construction of the human rights discourse. As mentioned above, it is impossible for this paper to analyze the translation and communication of all the texts related to the pandemic given the multitude and complexity of the external discourse. China’s external discourse with the value concept of putting people first is a popular expression of the human rights concept of putting people first, “Putting People First”, the most characteristic of the Chinese concept of external discourse against COVID-19, was selected as a typical case of cross-cultural translation and communication analysis of human rights discourse. As for cross-cultural translation, we’ve selected the translation corpus of “Putting People First” from the authoritative central government website and the official media representative of China for analysis. In terms of cross-cultural communication, the influential and representative Chinese and foreign news databases are selected to obtain the Chinese and English texts of “Putting People First” for more than one year (From January 2020 to March 2021) to analyze the communication effects. The Chinese database selected is CNKI which includes a full-text database of major domestic newspapers, and the English database is Factiva, the world’s largest news database, from which the keywords “Putting People First” in Chinese and English respectively were retrieved, totaling more than 1,300 results. In this way, we can grasp the overall trend and effect of China’s external COVID-19 human rights discourse. The specific usage and analysis of the corpus will be detailed in the relevant sections below.

III. The Text Construction of the Human Rights Discourse 
On the basis of the research8 on human rights in pandemic prevention and control and together with the collation of the corpus data of the Chinese government and its media, five categories of discourse practices related to China’s human rights concept and protection are summarized in line with the topics9 concerned. 
A. Discourse on the human rights concept of putting people first
Since its establishment, the Communist Party of China has taken the interests of the great majority of the people as the starting point and foothold of all its work. Putting people first is the CPC’s fundamental political stand and its basic concept of human rights, which is also reflected in China’s COVID-19 prevention and control discourse. The White Paper Fighting Covid-19: China in Action published by The State Council Information Office in June 2020 states that, “Faced with the sudden outbreak of the unknown virus, China has put the interests of the people first and effectively mobilized resources and strength of the whole country to protect the lives and health of the people. The joint force in fighting the pandemic is inseparable from the CPC’s concept of governance with putting people first.” As the World Health Organization Joint Expert Group on COVID-19 observed, “China has adopted the most courageous, flexible and positive measures against the pandemic as of now... and effectively curbed the rapid spread of the new respiratory pathogen and changed the dangerous progress of the rapid spread of the pandemic.”10 It facilitates the world in the acquaintance of the institutional factors of China’s success in curbing the spread of pandemic and the human rights philosophy behind it. The ruling party of China has put the concept of putting people first into the domestic practice of pandemic prevention, control and treatment as well as the external assistance in the global anti-pandemic efforts. As stated in the 2021 White Paper China’s International Development Cooperation in the New Era, China has clarified the concept of “putting people and life first,” and has provided foreign assistance to more than 150 countries and international organizations in 2020 to contain the global pandemic. This is China’s largest-scale and most intensive emergency humanitarian aid since its founding.
The importance attached to the concept of putting people first in the above official white papers shows that the term “putting people first” has a critical position and leading role in China’s official discourse in the post-pandemic era, especially in the field of human rights. Therefore, the characteristics of the text construction of the “putting people first” concept can be generalized as follows: the people-centered approach not only runs through the century-old history of the CPC, but will also serve in the uncertain post-pandemic era as the key underpinning and basic principle for China to take the lead in the international cooperation on pandemic prevention and control and actively participate in international affairs including human rights. Putting People First has not only become a programmatic discourse of China’s respect for and protection of human rights, highlighting the Chinese characteristics of the cause of human rights, but has also been reflected in China’s practices in the fight against COVID-19.
B. Discourse on the right to life and the right to health with life supremacy
Sparing no effort to save and protect people’s lives and health is China’s top priority in fighting COVID-19, which requires the human rights actions of taking anti-pandemic measures, and the discourse construction of the right to life and the right to health.
The most typical case is the white paper of more than 37,000 characters, titled Fighting COVID-19: China in Action 80% of it details China’s efforts to prevent and control the pandemic and save lives, including the five-stage vertical process of containment and horizontal coordination of command, prevention and control, and treatment, presenting a panoramic view of China’s anti-pandemic measures. Among them, four sub-headings, i.e., “An All-Out Effort to Treat Patients and Save Lives,” “Lives Are Precious,” “Newly Confirmed Domestic Cases on the Chinese Mainland Drop to Single Digits,” and “Mobilizing the Whole Country to Fight the Epidemic,” which are themed on the protection of life. The contents, such as “Placing people’s lives above economic growth,” “In the early stage of the epidemic, as the cases of infection soared, China made raising the cure rate and lowering the fatality rate its top priority. The best doctors and nurses were rapidly dispatched to the front line of the fight against the virus...The goal was to save every single patient, from an infant only 30 hours old to a centenarian, whatever the cost,” echo these sub-headings. There is no doubt that the white paper regards protecting the right to life and the right to health of citizens as the most important human rights, which is in total contrast to the failure of epidemic prevention and control in the United States caused by partisan politics and its blame game relation to the origin of the virus.11 In fact, since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, the CPC Central Committee has made it clear that “protecting people’s health is a strategic priority for development,” making it a key decision to implement the construction of a healthy China.12 China’s mainstream media are also following up on the progress of saving lives against time, albeit in a more flexible way.
In addition to briefing the world on the process and measures of domestic epidemic prevention and control, the Chinese government has formulated guiding policies, coordinated deployment and spread the external discourse of national epidemic prevention and control. On February 3, 2020, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out in a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee that the CPC Central Committee “always puts the people’s safety and health first.” A thematic study was conducted and the Notice on Strengthening the CPC Leadership as the Strong Political Guarantee to Win the Fight Against the Pandemic was issued. Thenceforth, the unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee for the pandemic prevention and control was strengthened, which contributed to the goal of “coordinating all the activities of the nation as in a chess game.”13 Later on February 10, the National Health Commission made a decision of conducting “pairing assistance” with the principle of “one province assisting one prefecture or city,” deploying an additional 19 provinces and cities to help the COVID-19 prevention and control outside Wuhan, Hubei Province.14 In his speech on March 10 during his inspection of Hubei province, Xi Jinping stressed the importance of “giving top priority to medical treatment” and implementing the “Four Early,” “Four Centralized,” and “Screening — Transfer for Treatment — Rehabilitation and Hospital Discharge — Isolated for Observation.15 While fighting the pandemic, China has maximized its humanitarian assistance to many other countries to help them fight the pandemic and protect lives.
As Hua Chunying, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, from March 2020 to January 10, 2021, China provided the United States with more than 42 billion masks, over 900 million pairs of surgical gloves, about 780 million protection suits, about 50.66 million pairs of goggles, 257 invasive ventilators and 15,648 non-invasive ventilators by means of export or donation.16
The above discourses of anti-pandemic response by the authorities and the media reveal China’s respect for individual life and the right to health from top to bottom and from home to abroad, and construct the discourse of life and health with the theme of “putting life and health first.” The discourse of the right to life and the right to health can reproduce China’s prevention and control measures and anti-pandemic effects via the three aspects, i.e., the correct guidance of decision-making and deployment at the national level, the concerted efforts and targeted measures of local and social sectors, and China’s foreign exchanges and assistance, making it a proof of respecting and protecting human rights in China. As President Xi Jinping said, “We will spare no effort to protect people’s lives.”17 It shows that the Chinese government wholeheartedly serves the people and gives top priority to people’s life safety and health.
C. Discourse on the right to know and the right to privacy related to the pandemic prevention & control information 
While protecting people’s lives and health, China focuses on protecting citizens’ right to know and right to privacy in its pandemic prevention and control work, and constructs the Human Rights Discourse of respecting citizens’ right to know and right to privacy in China. After analyzing the white paper and texts of the central government portal website with the theme of anti-pandemic, we’ve found that the discourse on the right to know embodies the characteristics of technicalization, which refers to the use of information technology to obtain basic personal information related to the epidemic according to law or with the authorization and consent of an individual citizen, and the use of big data, artificial intelligence and other means for analysis and management to help control the epidemic. The discourse on the technicalization of the right to know is that China tends to demonstrate the significance and convenience of technology in disclosing epidemic-related information, which helps the government to timely, proactively, accurately and comprehensively disclose authoritative information related to the epidemic and update it in real time to safeguard citizens’ right to know. For example, the white paper on COVID-19 prevention and control elaborates on the role of such technologies as health code, travel card and “epidemic map” in health results query, epidemic control travel and risk classification, infection source search and epidemiological investigation, so as to achieve precise prevention and control. Citizens can inquire about basic epidemic information and handle almost all day-today epidemic-related business with a smartphone, which are all attributed to the application of big data.
Moreover, the technicalization is developing both in scope and in depth. At the end of 2020, several ministries and commissions such as the National Health Commission issued the Notice on In-depth Promotion of “Internet + Medical Health” and “Five One” Services, in which the government clarified that medical institutions should promote the “integration” of online and offline services and the “one-code pass” within the industry, and that internet hospitals should bring about data sharing and business collaboration for jointly providing convenient, efficient and continuous services for patients so as to realize home rehabilitation step by step. The detailed, thoughtful and easily accessible information reflects China’s technology-driven and transparent approach to information disclosure.
The penetration of epidemic-related information technicalization has made it inevitable for citizens to be concerned about privacy disclosure. In response, China has followed the law-based norm and guidance, i.e., to respect and protect citizens’ privacy while indicating the guarantee by laws and regulations when introducing its response to COVID-19. An analysis of the pandemic-related texts on the central government portal website has found that 26 laws, notices, decisions and six press releases are related to citizens’ privacy protection, such as the Cybersecurity Law, Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, Emergency Response Law. These legislative and policy documents and press conferences involve various objects and contents, and detailed operational requirements for privacy protection. They stipulate the protection of the information security of citizens, passengers, volunteers and taxpayers (including enterprises), with the “Four Key Groups” included, and focus on standardizing big data support and information construction of personal information, psychological counseling and assistance, and privacy protection of nucleic acid testing in epidemic prevention and control. For instance, as stipulated in the Notice on Better Protecting Personal Information and Utilizing Big Data to Support Joint Prevention and Control Work issued in February 2020, “Personal information shall not be used for other purposes. No unit or individual shall disclose the name, age, ID number, telephone number, home address and other personal information without the consent of the person, except for those who have been desensitized for the purpose of joint prevention and control.” The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology introduced privacy protection measures at a press briefing during the battle against the epidemic, aiming to dispel misgivings about the use of data technology. These measures include clarifying the legal basis for data collection and the principle of minimization, strengthening data security and protection technologies against data attack, leakage and theft, and improving strictly graded and classified management standards for personnel and data, so as to ensure the use of data only required for epidemic prevention and control.18 It can be seen that China is trying to establish multiple protection mechanisms at the institutional, managerial and technical levels to protect citizens’ information privacy. China has also launched a Global Initiative on Data Security which contains seven measures. In addition, at the special news conference on the virus tracing investigation in 2021, China explained that the foreign experts were not allowed to copy the original data and take photos out of the need to follow international practices, respect and protect the right to privacy of patients.19 These COVID-19 dialogues at the international level also show that China attaches equal importance to the information security of its citizens at home and abroad, and has the awareness and responsibility to protect the data security and privacy of all mankind from a global perspective.
D. Discourse on the right to work after the work and production resumption 
As the epidemic was steadily curbed, China resumed social production and daily life, which is reflected in the discourse on policies made to meet the living requirements of employment, travel, education, etc., as well as meet the demands of enterprises. Since March 2020, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council have issued five policy documents on the targeted and steady promotion of the resumption of work and production. These policies have indicated the direction for the ministries and the local governments to formulate follow-up programs and measures for the resumption of work and production. In view of the pandemic-related risks in various regions, the State Council issued Guidance on Epidemic Prevention and Control Measures for Enterprises and Public Institutions after the Resumption of Work and Production to suggest resuming production by area and at different levels: In low-risk areas, the principle of “gradual and appropriate resumption” was adopted, while in medium-high risk areas, the principle of “security and stability” was adopted to promote the resumption of work and production across the whole industrial chain and the resumption of work, market and school in the service sector. The ministries have issued specific documents, including 28 on the resumption of work and production, which account for 60% of the total and cover the restoration of road and waterway transport and normal prevention and control work, the big data solutions for the resumption of work, market and school, the electricity cost reduction for enterprises, the talent evaluation, and the services for migrant workers to return to work. These specific measures explore the implementation of China’s policies for “Stability on Six Fronts” and “Security in Six Areas,” and strive to safeguard the discourse construction of the right to work of citizens. As a coordination platform at the national level, the joint prevention and control mechanism of the State Council, involving 32 departments, has coordinated and made real-time announcements on epidemic prevention and control in all aspects, including the resumption of work and production in the prevention and control under normal conditions. According to statistics, 70 (47.95%) of the news conferences held by the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council were related to the resumption of work and production in the year after the outbreak was detected (from February 2020 to January 2021). Moreover, the central government responded on its website to questions raised by the general public on the resumption of work and production, which were divided into three categories (192 questions in total): enterprise, employment, and work. The enterprises and individuals have more convenient access to information from how to reduce rents for small and micro businesses, what kind of skills training is available for the poor, to how the workplaces do a good job of protection. All of these are rich discourse practices to ensure people’s right to work in the context of epidemic prevention and control.
The discourse on the resumption of work and production policy under the normal situation of epidemic prevention and control shows that China spares no effort to create conditions to guarantee the right to work of its citizens even in the context of the global spread of the epidemic, and focuses on social security, education and culture, travel, employment, tourism, etc.. It proves that China’s discourse on the right to work has clear characteristics of focusing on people’s livelihoods, contributing to the image of China as a pragmatic and responsible country committed to the needs of the people.
E. Discourse on the global community of health for all
While fighting the novel coronavirus, China has contributed to the health of other countries, shaping a kind of discourse on the community of health of mutual assistance. First, China has done its duty to inform the outside world of the epidemic situation and share its knowledge and experience. Before the large-scale spread of the pandemic in the country, China sent a message to the world that it had detected the outbreak of an unknown virus: China proactively notified the World Health Organization of the epidemic on January 3, 2020, shared the genetic sequence of the virus with the world on January 5, and identified the virus on January 7.20 This gained time for countries to fight the epidemic, and develop testing reagents and vaccines.
On March 12, 2020, the day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, President Xi Jinping pledged solidarity and cooperation with the world in the fight against COVID-19, “China is prepared to share its experience with other countries and conduct joint research and development of drugs and vaccines, and is actively helping countries that are battling the spread of the disease.”21 Chinese scientists have shared with other countries articles on frontline treatment experience, research papers and reports on COVID-19, and over 100 publications, and held special video conferences for health experts to jointly fight the epidemic and take care of the health of people. Second, while receiving assistance from the outside world, China has provided humanitarian assistance to the international community in various aspects, including anti-epidemic supplies, personnel, funds, vaccines, transfer of technology property rights, warehousing, customs clearance, infrastructure construction and debt relief. In the G20 Global Health Summit in May 2021, President Xi Jinping pledged to provide free vaccines to more than 80 developing countries in urgent need, and said that China has provided 2 billion US dollars in assistance for the COVID-19 response in developing countries hit by the pandemic, sent medical supplies to more than 150 countries and 13 international organizations, and put off debt repayment exceeding 1.3 billion US dollars, the highest deferral amount among G20 members. Moreover, Chinese leaders have proposed the concept of building a Global Community of Health based on cooperation and mutual assistance. This has been put into practice in China’s anti-pandemic diplomacy and telephone diplomacy, such as the 73rd World Health Assembly, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 and the meetings with foreign heads of state on the phone. It shows China’s diplomatic ethics of responsibility and “strong power and strong morality”22 as a major country, and its efforts to work with the international community to build a global public health system for the benefit of all mankind to jointly respond to the negative impact of the pandemic. China has also promoted reform and innovation in global public health governance in terms of ideas and mechanisms, aside from taking specific assistance measures. China has initiated establishing “sound mechanisms for international cooperation, including a long-term financing mechanism, a monitoring, early warning and joint response mechanism for threats to public health, and a mechanism for reserving and allocating resources” to form a systematic “international mechanism for joint prevention and control of infectious diseases.”23 It has also launched an international forum for vaccine cooperation to promote the equitable distribution of vaccines24, oppose virus stigmatization, politicization and racial discrimination, and build a fair and just international health governance system.
The discourse on a Global Community of Health for All depicts a responsible major-country image of China featuring the respect and protection of human rights in other countries, by means of the representation of China’s anti-pandemic cooperation and assistance as well as innovation and its initiative of the mechanism on the textual level, which reflects China’s exploration and attempts to lead the reform of the existing international health governance system and establish a new human rights order. It is a vivid practice of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
The proposal for a Global Community of Health is the development and application of the concept of a community with a shared future for human beings in the field of public health, which shows that China is updating and innovating its human rights concept and discourse with the tide of historical development in international exchanges. Meanwhile, the Global Community of Health has been included as a consensus in the joint statement of the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit On Solidarity Against COVID-19, which proves that this concept has initially been recognized by the international community and has exerted a certain influence. 
IV. Cross-cultural Translation of the Human Rights Discourse
Followed by the textual construction, language transformation is required to integrate the Human Rights Discourse into a group of people from another culture. Text translation matters in the process. Although Chinese is the language spoken by the largest number of people in the world, English is the most widely used. There is no doubt that China’s Human Rights Discourse has to be translated into English so as to be understood and thus recognized by the international community. The translation of the texts related to human rights requires highlighting the basic linguistic and cultural differences, and especially the principle of “political equivalence” in diplomatic translation.
“Political Equivalence” is the new standard and new principle proposed by Professor Yang Mingxing on the basis of US translation theorist Eugene Nida’s translation theory of “Equivalence. It is a newly-added standard for the translation of a particular professional field (especially diplomacy), preserving the political connotation of the original text without losing its communicative function. Politics, equilibrium and dynamics are the three striking features of “Political Equivalence,” and can be used to measure the effect of political stance and attitude in the diplomatic translation. This concept is consistent with the domestic discourse China and has been applied to analyze the practice of contemporary China’s diplomatic discourse,25 featuring feasibility and effectiveness. Therefore, the principle of “Political Equivalence” is of certain guiding significance for the translation of human rights issues in China’s diplomatic discourse. Hereby, we take the English translation of “ren min zhi shang” (meaning “putting people first”) as an example for illustration.
Even though “putting people first” is a new concept, it varies in translation. In virtue of corpus, we’ve sorted out the English reports of the Chinese government and its media websites and found that there are as many as 24 translations of “ren min zhi shang. Due to limited space, we selected the top seven versions as per the frequency of occurrence (see Table 2) for analysis. It can be seen that the English translations of “ren min” use “people” in the plural instead of “individual” in the singular, which agrees with the collectivist culture. “Zhi shang” means the top or the first place. With “supremacy” and “front” as exceptions, “first” or “center” is most commonly used. There are two main differences in the translation of the term: what of the people to be put first, and the different attribute positioning and understanding of the term.

The above translation differences show that the official understanding of the connotation of “putting people first” varies with the times and the change of context, reflecting a certain degree of flexibility. “Put people first,”27 the concise and generalized literal translation, is the most popular and most widely used in the above-mentioned official websites and political media reports with as many as 120 results, maybe because it fails to place “what of the people” in the first place and is suitable for various contexts (including the fight against COVID-19). From the perspective of Political Equivalence, compared with other translations, it can directly convey the meaning of China’s original discourse “ren min zhi shang” (putting people first) while retaining the political concept with Chinese characteristics, i.e., “serving the people,” “all for the people,” “putting people first,” and “people are all that matter to the nation.” Meanwhile, it is usually better than such translations as “people-centered philosophy” in most cases, which can have the shortcomings of excessive formality, high ranking and academic tone depending on context. Therefore, the popular translation “put people first,” combined with the specific context, is more natural and unified in style. To be specific, although the ideological content of “putting people first” is abstract and independent to a certain extent, its simple and straightforward expression makes it easy for common recipients abroad to understand its significance as long as it is placed in the context of specific national conditions, such as the fight against COVID-19. It is just as summarized in examples 1 and 7 that how putting people first can be interpreted with the feat and effect of the national fight against the epidemic, namely, “small words come in handy,” said Wang Guan, CGTN reporter of the China Media Group.28 When facing the media recipient, the serious political concept is transformed into popular expression and translation accompanied by concrete examples to greatly lower the threshold for the recipients to understand the concept of human rights from a foreign country.
If the relatively abstract translation “put people first” can be used as a hypernym, the other translations (Examples 2-4 in Table 2) can be categorized into hyponyms, with “what of people to be put first” complemented. Given that the COVID-19 epidemic has become the biggest context at the moment, how to prevent and control the epidemic to save the lives of infected people, maintain people’s basic living and travel, and resume production and employment has become a priority for the government. In other words, when people’s lives and health are under threat, these basic rights and interests become the embodiment (“people’s lives,” “health,” “safety”) of the translation to enrich the content. As shown in examples 2, 3, 5, this kind of translation appears in the transition phase of the arguments in response to COVID-19 and the summarization of the specific measures, as the connection. With the function of argument analysis and preliminary extraction, it sublimates the surface anti-epidemic response to the deep spiritual belief, making China’s story of human rights more fluent and layered but not too abrupt. Therefore, it can be concluded that such translation strategies basically combine the specific challenges faced by China at a specific stage, such as the most basic subsistence and security, to determine “what of the people” to be put first and concretize the meaning of “putting people first.” Therefore, such translations as hyponyms are relatively contextual.
Examples 5-7 can be classified into another category, which has the tendency of abstraction, conceptualization, categorization and theorization, reflecting the adoption of the structure of “(put) people first/people-centered + nouns” (e.g. “policy,” “development,” “approach,” “philosophy”). It has a tendency to be nominalized and formalized, and deviates from the actuality in the context of national and social conditions, showing the evolution path of macro concept from policy to methodological philosophy. However, it should also be noted that these translations have different interpretations of “putting people first” as a policy, a development approach or a philosophy. Such multiple positioning reflects the abundant research and different understandings of the concept of “putting people first” in academic circles. Through literature review, we’ve found that the nature positioning of “putting people first” in academia can be classified into five categories: a value, a practice in fighting the epidemic, an approach that relies on the support, participation and practice of the people, a theory of the localization of Marxism in China, and a governance philosophy.29 It can be seen that the interpretation of this concept by the academic circle overlaps with the understanding of translations 5-7, and contains more diverse connotations. Therefore, we hold that the academic interpretation integrates, deepens and surpasses the various translation positioning mentioned above in “putting people first,” but meanwhile, the concept tends to be complicated and difficult to be fully translated due to the coverage of various aspects. Such translation is more suitable for the formal and serious texts of the minority of professional elites such as officials and academia.
To sum up, we hold that, in the translations of “ren min zhi shang,” “put people first” and “people-first approach” are more appropriate and accurate, with the advantage of omitting the translation of “what of the people. They can be used in various contexts featuring a concise and transparent way of expression, and are free of emotional baggage, reflecting the thought and national stance of the human rights with Chinese characteristics “ren min zhi shang,” which means putting people in the first place. They are similar to the concepts in English (e.g., put people first or a people-first approach/party/culture/ company/organization) and correspond to the term “yi ren wei ben,” which has been repeatedly mentioned in recent exchanges by national leaders,30 with strong readability and understandability, which is conducive to extensive communication.
Some readers may doubt that the above two translations do not show political equivalence, but are more concerned with the equivalence of pragmatic communicative effects, and fail to identify the nature of “putting people first.” So why not adopt other translations? It is necessary to clarify that Political Equivalence does not mean translating political concepts, formulations and situations literally and verbatim, for such kind of political fidelity that pursues literalism inevitably has intended publicity and obvious translationese (e.g., the translation of the people’s democratic dictatorship,31 and the early translation of the “democratic parties”32) and would deepen the misunderstanding of China, which is not conducive to China’s international exchanges. It refers to what Professor Wang Binhua33 said is the crux of the matter “to translate or to communicate?” We prefer the latter. The translation should serve for communication and exchange. In other words, as long as the Chinese political stance and intention behind the language are understood by the international recipients, flexibility can be adopted in the language to reduce the obscurity of the text and clarify the doubt of the recipient, and give consideration to the communicative effect. This is the deep connotation of Political Equivalence. Therefore, it is easy to understand that there is no need to add “(governance philosophy)” or “development” to the translation to deliberately strengthen the political implications. Another question might be, why can “approach” be added? This is because the usage of “approach” can avoid the above-mentioned problems of translation, integrate rich implications, and combine Chinese and foreign expressions, so as not to attend to one thing and lose another. To be specific, “approach” in the English context not only refers to an action path and measure to achieve goals, but also implies a set of matched philosophy, values and theoretical perspectives. Therefore, the translation of the “people-first approach” is easy to be understood by international recipients and also conforms to international conventions of expression. It is an appropriate expression integrating Chinese and foreign cultures.
In translation practice, omitting redundancy and adding explanation by addition, subtraction, transformation, and group adjustment34 are fairly commonly-used for the purpose of idiomatic expression. A similar balance between political implication and idiomatic expression is struck in other anti-pandemic discourse translations.
V. The Cross-cultural Communication of the Discourse Power on Human Rights
In addition to text construction and language translation, cross-cultural communication also has an impact on the construction of Human Rights Discourse. By analyzing the current situation and characteristics of cross-cultural communication featuring the concept of “Putting People First” in epidemic prevention and control, we investigated the communication effect of Human Rights Discourse with Chinese characteristics.
A. The concept of human rights with some recognition
We selected “put people first” and “ren min zhi shang” in Chinese as the search terms through Factiva, the largest news database in the world, and the full-text database of important domestic newspapers on CNKI, with the deadline of March 19, 2021. 10,660 English documents and 761 Chinese reports were retrieved respectively (see Figure 1).
Surprisingly, the use of “ren min zhi shang” or “yi ren wei ben” in foreign countries was used much earlier than that in China, which proved that “put people first” had been used in foreign countries for a long time. In the 20 years from 1972 to 1991, it was at a low level of development. After reaching a small peak in 1992, it experienced a slight decline in the 1990s, and gradually became stable and showed an upward trend from the new century, especially from 2018 to 2020. However, the awareness of “putting people first” in China skyrocketed since 2020. In just one year, the social awareness of “putting people first” increased by 20 times.

Although the cognition of “put people first” in foreign countries is earlier than that in China, it cannot be ruled out that foreign communication has no relation to domestic discourse on “putting people first.” There are mainly two reasons. First of all, China’s epidemic prevention and control and social resumption are earlier than those of other countries, and China’s discourse on epidemic prevention and control is also earlier than that of other countries. Therefore, it is impossible for China’s discourse to come from foreign countries after communication. Secondly, the trend of communication on “putting people first” in China is the same as that in other countries only in the past two years. A careful observation of Figure 1 shows that, compared with the previous changes at home and abroad (there is no commonality from 2011 to 2018). Only in 2019 and 2020, the trends are the same, with parallel changes, both of which increase first and then decline. Our data is up to March 2021, so the amount of communication in the first three months of 2021 was significantly decreased than that in 2020. To sum up, we hold that to some extent, China’s concept of “putting people first” has gained recognition abroad.
Some people may argue why “Put People First” was recognized 40 years earlier in foreign countries than in China? Will the concept in China be affected by the concept in other countries? To answer the two questions, we need to understand the history of Western development and the different ways of expressing the term at home and abroad.
We hold that “put people first” is inseparable from the evolution of Western development theory, because it accords with the core view of the development theory, that is, the connotation of integrating the human subject value into development. Since World War 11, the western society experienced rapid economic development, but the lives of common people were not improved, with the problems of unemployment, distribution and corruption emerging one after another, which prompted people to reflect on equating development with economic growth, and to focus on the common development of efficiency and social justice. In the 1970s, however, as environmental problems and resource exhaustion became increasingly prominent, people introduced value elements into development theory and realized that the ecological environment should also be included in development. Subsequently, the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development put forward the concept of “sustainable development” for the first time in its report in 1987, defining it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.35 Since then, human development, i.e., human economic, social, environmental and other factors have been incorporated into the concept of development,36 measuring development as a final goal. In general, it is to place people in the first place, and “put people first” came into being, which conforms to “yi ren wei ben” in Chinese. Therefore, in the above Figure 1, it can be seen that in the 20 years from the 1970s to the 1990s, “put people first” emerged like sparks of fire. During the 30 years from the early 1990s to 2020, it increased steadily, with the number of publications increasing fivefold from 200 to nearly 1,200, probably as a result of the widespread popularization by the United Nations. Since 1990, the United Nations has issued human development reports every year. In particular, in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development adopted Agenda 21, pushing ahead sustainable development from concept to action.
It can also be seen in Table 3 that the United Nations and the General Assembly have become the main communication institutions popularizing the concept of “put people first.
In spreading the development concept mentioned above, it cannot be ruled out that China may absorb some ideas from it. However, the concept of “putting people first” in China has its own origin and characteristics, which is also surpassing the West. This involves how the concept of “put people first” is referred to in China. The term can be traced back to the people-based thought in ancient China37, which is hundreds of years before the Western concept of development. “Putting people first” appeared sporadically in the public sphere for a long time. It was not until the outbreak of COVID-19 that the concept soared and was recognized by the general public. However, the domestic academic circle began to pay attention to “putting people first” earlier in 1996. This shows that domestic academic circles have a relatively early understanding of “putting people first.” It takes several years to decades for “putting people first” to be adopted by the government from theoretical demonstration, and then to be known by the general public through communications media. In addition, the proposal of the Chinese term “put people first” is worth noting. It is translated as “yi ren wei ben” by China Daily by internet search, which was officially put forward at the Third Plenary Session of the 16th CPC Central Committee in 2003, and became a core concept of the Scientific Outlook on Development under the leadership of Hu Jintao in 2007. In other words, before the proposal of “ren nin zhi shang,” “yi ren wei ben” was the mainstream of Chinese media from 2010 to 2019 and became the main cognition of people (see the long dotted line in Figure 1). This also reflects that the importance and emphasis of successive Chinese governments on the people is consistent, but the mentioned concept varied in different periods. Meanwhile, considering that the development of the West is usually based on the freedom and rights of individuals, while the development of China is based on the interests of collectives, that is, individuals are regarded as members of a group, and collectives are regarded as a whole, ranging from small families to countries and mankind. It means the interdependence and mutual influence among members and countries. Members often have an obvious sense of identity and belonging, which helps to overcome selfishness and liberality in the individualistic culture. Therefore, the people-centered concept is the transcendence of the Western concept of development, and to a large extent aims to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and the inequality brought about by the Western social capital logic.

Through the institutional analysis of the corpus of Factiva and CNKI.com, it was found that the channels of obtaining “put people first” are different at home and abroad. The global institutions and large enterprises mainly at the global level contributed to the promotion and communication of this concept (see Table 3). For example, the European Union, the United Nations, Marriott, Facebook and even Sinopec, a Chinese enterprise, have all contributed to the overseas communication of “put people first.” It corresponds with some research at home and abroad38. In other words, China is increasingly focusing on the diversity of subjects and channels to make up for the monotony of official voices, whether by “borrowing a boat to go out to sea” (using local media to tailor its message to foreign audiences) or “borrowing a mouth to talk” (using international friends to carry out foreign propaganda). In contrast, in China, communication from governmental media and local media helps the recipients to get the understanding of “putting people first,” and official newspapers in the party and government, economy, theory and military (69%) are used to popularize the concept to the public. Such internal and external differences also provide a direction for future communication with the concept of “putting people first,” that is, to increase overseas communication of Chinese enterprises and strengthen non-governmental communication channels and expand the coverage of Chinese voices.
B. Positive international cognition
According to 151 web pages containing “put people first” while excluding repeated news collected from the Factiva database in the last year, we annotated by referring to the emotional tendency standard of functional linguistics, and made statistical findings by using corpus analysis software AntConc3.2.4w. Different from the stigmatization of China’s epidemic prevention and control by some Western governments, the majority of Non-Chinese recipients held a positive attitude towards “put people first” (77.48%, see Table 4). This shows that Western society’s attitude towards China is not monolithic, and China’s human rights concepts and values have begun to win recognition from the outside world, especially from Western civil society. We further prove it with the following examples.

Examining the results for the year just ended, we can say that we have achieved our objectives. We naturally felt the impact of the pandemic but, also thanks to the fact that we put people first, we succeeded in ensuring a high level of business continuity and largely met the profitability target, ... (20210311F58)
That is what Valerio Battista, CEO of Prysmian Group, a leader in the energy and cable communication industry in Italy, said when reviewing the company’s excellent performance in 2020. Battista puts the importance of people (including employees or users) first. The words “achieved our objectives,”“succeed,” “thanks to,” “high level,” “business continuity” and “met the profitability target” relate to the business achievements, arousing the recipient’s recognition of the enterprise, affirmation of the operation ability and bright vision of the future, so it is a positive emotion and evaluation tendency. It reflects the enterprise’s recognition of the value of “putting people first,” or “putting employees first” and “putting users first.” Although there is no assessment from the Chinese government on the fight against the epidemic, we can see from the context that the business philosophy and actions of the Group, including the donation of cables to Wuhan hospitals, are in line with the concept of putting people first in China’s nationwide fight against the epidemic, and it is also a vivid footnote of the joint efforts of China and foreign countries to fight the epidemic. It is confirmed by some scholars39 in their findings on the improvement of China’s ability to respond to public security emergencies in all aspects. Such entrepreneurs that cooperate with China are likely to become international influencers with the understanding and affection of China,40 who play a constructive role in promoting exchanges and mutual understanding between China and other countries. In addition, US society resorts to “putting people first” to combat structural racial inequality:
Our values drive us to put people first. That is why we are working to address anti-Black racism by helping make the agricultural economy work for more producers,” said Anna Richo, Cargill’s general counsel, chief compliance officer and corporate secretary. (20210304F070)
“Value,” “help,” “serve for,” “more producers” and “deal with” construct a positive and promising attitude and value orientation for “put people first. Cargill practices the concept and puts the interests of black people in an important position, helping to solve the problem of inequality for Black people from the perspective of agriculture. Therefore, “putting people first” presents a positive attitude construction in the text. This is consistent with the purpose of “putting people first” in China, which is to seek happiness for the masses of the people.
The above-mentioned analysis shows that the foreign perception of human rights in China is diverse, and that of civil society is mostly positive, rather than ignoring the anti-pandemic efforts of China or its contribution to human rights. This is especially true in developing countries. In other words, the international civil society and China enjoy common human rights concepts and values, with people placed in central and the most important position and as the starting point of work. This illustrates the intelligibility and acceptability of China’s “putting people first,” which has the advantages of “universal knowledge” shared by the world that transcends “local knowledge” proposed by J.Hu.41 The global significance of China’s discourse on human rights has attracted the attention and recognition of the international community. Therefore, we should continue to maintain an inclusive, open and conversational mentality to build China’s Human Rights Discourse to the world and improve the existing international Human Rights structure.
VI. Conclusion 
In this paper, the “construction-translation-communication” model under the framework of the diplomatic discourse system is applied to human rights discourse in the external discourse of the COVID-19 response, which investigates the effect of text construction, cross-cultural translation and communication of the Human Rights Discourse System with Chinese characteristics. An interdisciplinary approach to Human Rights Discourse System construction with Chinese characteristics was proposed. China’s Human Rights Discourse is constructed through various texts of rights, including the discourse on core human rights concepts, the discourse on the right to life and the right to health, the discourse on the right to know and the right to privacy, the discourse on the right to work, and the discourse on the Global Community of Health. The cross-cultural translation of the core human rights concept “Put People First” reflects the deepening cognitive process of decontextualization, abstraction and theorization, increasingly conforming to the expression habits of international recipients. Its communication receives mainly positive feedback, which has gained certain awareness in the international community, and has been recognized by the Western civil society.
The conclusion suggests that the interdisciplinary approach of “construction-translation-communication” of the construction of the Human Rights Discourse System with Chinese characteristics has certain feasibility and effectiveness, which shows that China has exerted full efforts to protect citizens’ basic rights in response to the pandemic outbreak, defend the international norms of human rights under the UN mechanism, and demonstrate the worldwide significance of China’s human rights concept, producing a positive effect in the international community and contributing the Chinese wisdom to the international human rights cause.
It is of great significance to explore the construction of the Human Rights Discourse System with Chinese Characteristics from an interdisciplinary perspective both theoretically and practically. At the theoretical level, the “construction-translation-communication” trilogy provides an alternative option and possibility for the systematic construction of China’s Human Rights Discourse. It breaks the disciplinary limitations, and is more liable to achieve theoretical innovation and more likely to stand the test of time based on certain practical experience. At the practical level, it summarizes the experience of text construction, translation and communication in the field of medical and health care in terms of human rights, providing references for the improvement of China’s international discourse power and the governance of the human rights discourse.
(Translated by XU Chao)

* JIN Ruhua ( 金茹花 ), Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate Researcher at Chinese Academy of Diplomatic Discourse Studies, Zhengzhou University, and Lecturer at Zhongyuan University of Technology; 
** YANG Mingxing ( 杨明星 ), Professor and Dean of Chinese Academy of Diplomatic Discourse Studies, Zhengzhou University, Vice Dean of the School of International Studies, Zhengzhou University. This paper is a periodical result of the major project of National Social Science Foundation of China, “Discourse Construction, Translation and Communication of Major-Country Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics” (Project No. 17ZDA318). 
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26. The Chinese version is provided by the author. Other examples in this paper are translated by the author as well unless otherwise specified.
27. Please note that although “ren min zhi shang” and “yi ren wei ben” are officially used in different periods of time, they can be both translated into “put people first.” According to the discrimination of these two Chinese terms (e. g., Yang Yu, “Theoretical Evolution and Sublimation from ‘Yi Ren Wei Ben’ to ‘A People-centered Approach’”, Journal of The Party School of Nanchang Municipal Committee of CPC 1 (2019): 26-31), we hold that “A People-centered Approach” is the inheritance and development of “yi ren wei ben” in the new era. To some extent, the change of expression affects the statistical results of the external cognition survey of “putting people first.” Therefore, please refer to section 1 of part 5 of this article for more explanation.
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