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On the System Structure of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics
September 25,2022   By:CSHRS
On the System Structure of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics
 
MENG Tao*
 
Abstract: General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important statements on respecting and protecting human rights provide authoritative guidance for constructing a socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics. Based on his remarks, the theoretical system of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics is composed of four major parts: Functions of human rights, subjects of human rights, connotations of human rights and protection of human rights. The functions of human rights consist of people’s interests and free and all-round development. The former is the basic function, while the latter is the ultimate function. The subjects of human rights include collective human rights and individual human rights. The latter is the basis of the former, while the former is the latter’s guarantee. The connotations of human rights cover basic human rights, foremost human rights and specific human rights. The protection of human rights is composed of legal protection and international human rights governance. All five parts of the system of the socialist rule of law with distinctive Chinese features guarantee the protection of human rights. China has participated extensively in the cause of human rights in the world, protected the rights to subsistence and development of people in every corner of the world for a long time, actively promoted the reform of global governance of human rights and the construction of a community of a shared future for human beings, and highlighted the international legal protection of human rights.
 
Keywords: collective human rights · basic human rights · foremost human rights · legal protection of human rights
 
The birth of the discourse of the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics was marked by the White Paper on Human Rights in China published by the State Council Information Office in 1991. Since then, the theory of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics has developed rapidly, and various theoretical views have emerged. The system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics continues to develop. The concept of a system comes from ancient Greek philosophy. It refers to a whole organically combined by various components in accordance with certain and internal correlations. Since ancient Greece, scientific theory has often appeared in the form of a system, and the systematization of theories is the necessary condition for a theory to be regarded as scientific.
 
Shortly after the release of China’s first white paper on human rights, there were calls to “explore a system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics.”1 However, the study of this system was late in coming. In December 2010, Human Rights magazine held a seminar on “A System of Human Rights Theories,” to explore a system of socialist human rights theory and a human rights development model with Chinese characteristics. Later, the academic circle carried out research on the system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics and made some influential achievements.2 But generally speaking, there has been little research on a system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics.
 
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, the book Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights edited by the Institute of Party History and Literature of the Central Committee of the CPC was published. This book presents for the first time the systematic exposition of the top leader of the CPC on human rights and provides authoritative guidance for the development of the study of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics and the construction of the theoretical system. The book is a collection of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s statements on human rights since the 18th CPC National Congress, which are carefully classified and arranged into nine parts. Part I: The CPC and the Chinese government’s commitment to respecting and protecting human rights. Part II: A path of human rights development suited to China’s conditions. Part III: Pursuing a people-centered human rights philosophy. Part IV: Taking the rights to subsistence and development as primary among the basic human rights and realizing common prosperity in gradual steps. Part V: Making the health and safety of the people the top priority. Part VI: Coordinating efforts to enhance the economic, political, social, cultural, and environmental rights of all and promoting people’s well-rounded development. Part VII: Safeguarding the rights and interests of special groups such as ethnic minorities, women, children, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Part VIII: Legal guarantee of human rights. Part IX: Human rights cause of the world. These nine parts completely cover the systematic components such as functions, subjects, connotations, and guarantees of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics, and cover different categories of human rights themes, such as people’s interests and free and all-round development, collective human rights and individual human rights, basic human rights and foremost human rights, legal protection of human rights and international human rights governance. According to this, we can divide the structure of the system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics into four parts, with each part having distinct themes and each being closely related to the others.
 
I. Function of Human Rights: People’s Interests and Free and All-round Development
 
There are two theories about the function of human rights: the interest theory and the choice or will theory. The interest theory argues that rights exist to serve the relevant interests of the rights owner. If we can distinguish who can benefit from the performance of a certain obligation, then we have established a connection between rights and obligations. The choice or will theory argues that the purpose of rights is to give the rights owner the power to control the obligations of others and to protect and promote the autonomy of the rights owner.3 The two theories have their advantages and disadvantages. But generally speaking, the interest theory explains better than the choice or will theory. The Marxist view on human rights holds a comprehensive concept: the essence of rights lies in both protecting the interests of the rights owner and safeguarding the independent and all-round choices of the rights owner, and the realization of the free and all-round choice is based on the satisfaction of material interests. Karl Marx pointed out that “The realm of freedom begins only where the labor dictated by necessity and external purpose is done. Thus, by the very nature of things, it exists on the other side of the realm of real material production.”4 The realm of freedom is based on the realm of necessity and realized by means of the material. Interest is the basic function of human rights, while free choice is the ultimate function of human rights.
 
General Secretary Xi Jinping’s discourses on the function of human rights are a further development of the Marxist view on human rights in the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This discourse regards the interests of the people as the primary function of human rights. “Adhering to a people-centered development philosophy, the CPC and the Chinese government have always placed the interests of the people above all else, taken the people’s aspirations for a better life as its goal, and continuously improved the level of respecting and protecting the basic rights of the Chinese people.”5 The priority given to the interests of the people is determined by the original aspiration and mission of the CPC, which always represents the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people. In the new era, people’s needs for a better life are mainly reflected in the satisfaction of various interests: “Our people love life. They want to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, more reliable social security, better medical and health services, more comfortable housing conditions, and a more beautiful environment. They want their children to grow up better, have better jobs, and lead a better life.”6 In response, President Xi Jinping has stressed that, “Improving people’s living standards on the basis of economic development is the fundamental goal of all the work of the Party and the state. To consolidate its governing position and fulfill its governing mission, the Party must always take realizing, safeguarding, and developing the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people as the starting point and ultimate goal of all its work, constantly solve the most practical problems of the greatest concern to the people, and strive to enable them to live a better life.”7
 
The function of rights is not only limited to the protection of interests but also to meet the more comprehensive demand of free choice. General Secretary Xi Jinping has said that, in accordance with the ideas of Marx and Engels, communist society will eliminate the opposition and differences between classes, urban and rural areas, and between mental and manual labor, and implement distribution according to the ability of each, so as to truly realize social sharing and free and all-round development of each individual.8
 
“The fundamental purpose of the Party in leading the people in building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way and in carrying out reform, opening up and socialist modernization is to continuously improve the people’s material and cultural life and promote all-round human development by developing productive forces.”9 Therefore, the free and all-round development of human beings is the ultimate function of human rights, and the satisfaction of people’s interests is the only way to the free and all-round development of human beings. Marx said, “Well-developed individuals — their social relations as their common relations, are also subject to their common control — are not products of nature, but society. For this personality to be possible, the development of ability must reach a certain degree and comprehensiveness which presupposes production based on exchange values. Only such production produces the universality of the individual’s difference from himself and others while producing the universality and comprehensiveness of individual relations and capacities.”10 Here, “the universality and comprehensiveness of individual relations and capacities” can truly realize the free and all-round choice of each person according to his or her independent will. By 2021, China has achieved the grand goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and the material interests of the people have been fully satisfied. After that, “the needs of the people for a better life have become more extensive, raising not only higher requirements for material and cultural life, but also increasing requirements in the fields of democracy, rule of law, equity, justice, security and the environment.”11 These demands of the people need to be met through rights.
 
II. Subject of Human Rights: Collective Human Rights and Individual Human Rights
 
In the history of human rights theories, the birth of the concept of human rights is deeply influenced by individualism.12 As the subject of human rights, individuals have long been widely recognized. The emergence of collective human rights is relatively late, and its existence is even controversial. Collective human rights include the rights of specific groups, national rights, and state rights. China recognizes individual human rights while advocating collective human rights. According to General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important remarks, the Chinese people enjoy individual rights such as the right of the person, the right of personality, property rights, and the right to vote. At the same time, there are various kinds of collective human rights in China, and specific groups such as ethnic minorities, women, children, senior citizens, and the disabled enjoy specific collective human rights. In 2015, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “At present, there are hundreds of millions of poor people in rural areas, poor people in urban areas, migrant workers in cities, left-behind women, children, elderly people, and disabled people in rural areas. These are particular groups that need special care.”13 These specific groups enjoy some special collective human rights because of their difficulties and special needs in realizing their rights, which should be specially guaranteed by national laws.14
 
Ethnic groups and regions, as collectives, also enjoy the right to independence. As General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out, “All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal, and the right of people of all countries to independently choose their development paths should be respected.”15 “We should strive for equitable development and make development opportunities more equal. ...We should improve global economic governance, increase the representation and voice of developing countries, and give all countries the right to participate in rule-making on an equal footing.”16
 
Collective human rights are a distinct reflection of the Marxist view on human rights. Marx, who lived in the 19th century, was critical of the individualistic view of human rights that was prevalent back then. He said, “The so-called human rights, or droitsdel’ homme which is distinct from the droits du citoyen, are nothing more than the rights of members of civil society. In other words, the rights of self-interested persons, separated from others and the community.”17 Marx pointed out that man is a species-being. “The essence of man is not the abstract inherent in a single person, but the sum of all social relations in its reality.”18 Individuals form a collective through special social relations. The existence of a collective is a reality, not a virtual thing. Collective human rights can be proved no matter from the perspective of interest theory or that of choice or will theory. From the perspective of interest theory, collective human rights aim to protect collective interests. There is an important question then: what are “collective interests”? Some studies point out that collective interests have four forms of expression: interests of collection, interests of common production, interests of public goods, and interests of sharing.19 This paper argues that collective interests have three forms of expression. First, independence interests relative to other collectives. In this case, there are no such interests without other collectives, such as national security. Second, independence interests relative to other individuals. These are interests that individuals themselves cannot create and enjoy,20 such as cultural traditions and languages. Third, common interests can be enjoyed by both the collective and the individual, such as environmental resources. These collective interests are real and can be assigned to specific collectives. The relevant collectives should have rights to these collective interests. From the perspective of choice or will theory, a collective, as an existing subject, has independent action space and can determine its future and destiny. For example, a nation can make self-determination for its political status, and a country can independently choose its development model. To guarantee the free choice of the collective, the existence of collective human rights is indispensable. To sum up, according to the Marxist view of human rights, collective human rights are a kind of realistic human rights that can be exercised independently. The relationship of collective human rights to individual human rights lies in that individual human rights are the basis of collective human rights and collective human rights are the guarantee of individual human rights. Only in the collective can individuals achieve all-round and free development and enjoy specific interests and choices through collective human rights.21
 
III. Connotations of Human Rights: Basic Human Rights, Foremost Human Rights, and Specific Human Rights
 
The socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics has always regarded the rights to life and development as the basic human rights. This theoretical discourse began with the White Paper on Human Rights in China published in 1991. The right to life has both international and domestic dimensions. The international dimension refers to national self-determination and national sovereignty and independence, while the domestic dimension refers to the safe life of all the people and their basic guarantee for survival.22 General Secretary Xi Jinping attaches great importance to the right to life and has made many remarks, pointing out that “people’s life and safety should always be the top priority” and “human life is paramount, and development must not be at the expense of human life. This must be a red line that cannot be crossed.”23 There are various measures to ensure the right to life. According to General Secretary Xi Jinping, the measures to ensure people’s right to life include poverty alleviation, Healthy China construction, Peaceful China construction, and ensuring work safety. Poverty alleviation plays an important role in guaranteeing people’s right to life. General Secretary Xi Jinping has given many important instructions in this regard. For example, “We must mobilize the whole Party, the whole country and society to take targeted measures to alleviate and eliminate poverty. We should adhere to the working mechanism under which the central government coordinates the overall work, provincial governments assume overall responsibility, and cities and counties carry out specific work. The system of top Party and government leaders taking overall responsibilities must be strengthened. We should adhere to the pattern of multi-dimensional poverty alleviation, pay attention to the combination of poverty alleviation with the support for poor people’s ambition and education, deepen cooperation in poverty alleviation between the eastern and western regions, and focus on the task of poverty alleviation in deeply impoverished areas, so as to make sure that rural poor people are free from worries over food and clothing and have access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing.”24 As for building a Healthy China, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out, “We should implement the Healthy China Strategy. People’s health is an important symbol of a prosperous nation and a powerful country. We must improve the national health policy and provide people with all-round, full-cycle health services.”25 As for the construction of a Peaceful China, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out, “Peace is the first need of the people after they have enough food and clothing. It is an extremely important livelihood matter and the most basic development environment.”26 On work safety, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “All regions, departments, and enterprises must adhere to high standards and strict requirements for production safety, pay close attention to production safety in attracting investment and undertaking projects, increase the weight of production safety indicators in evaluation, and implement the ‘one vote veto’ on the risk of work safety and major work safety accidents.”27 In addition, the right to life is guaranteed also by food safety, emergency management, and so on.28
 
The right to development is a collective human right second only to the right to life. It is also a comprehensive right that develops dynamically. The concept of “shared development” put forward by General Secretary Xi Jinping has added new meanings to the right to development in the new era. The concept of shared development has four implications. First, it is shared by all. This is in terms of the coverage of shared development. Shared development is for everyone, not for a few individuals or groups. Second, all-round sharing. The content of development should be shared by all. To achieve shared development, we need to share the fruits of the country’s economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress and fully protect the legitimate rights and interests of the people in all fields.
 
Third, joint contribution and shared benefits. This is in terms of the ways to realize shared benefits. Joint contribution is the premise of shared benefits, and the process of joint contribution is also a process of shared benefits. Fourth, gradual sharing. This is in terms of the process and development of sharing. Sharing will develop from low levels to high levels, and from unbalanced to balanced sharing. Even if such sharing reaches a high level, there will be differences among individuals.29 The implementation of shared development can be summed up in two aspects. First, it’s necessary to implement the vision of people-centered development, give full play to the enthusiasm, initiative, and creativity of the people, and mobilize all the people to advance the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and make the pie of development bigger. Second, it’s necessary to better share the growing pie so that the advantages of the socialist system are fully demonstrated and the people have a greater sense of gain.30 In line with the concept of shared development, the right to development in the new era should be featured by sharing by all in an all-round and gradual way, and by joint contribution and shared benefits. The Party and the government “should take the initiative to address the gap between regions, between urban and rural areas, and between the incomes of people. We should continue to ensure and improve people’s well-being in the course of development, and coordinate work in employment, income distribution, education, social security, medical care, housing, elderly care, and support for the young. We need to give greater priority to rural areas, community-level areas, less-developed areas, and people in financial difficulties, and promote social equity and justice so that the fruits of development benefit all the people more equitably.”31
 
In 2018, in his congratulatory letter to the Symposium Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping put forward the important assertion that “people’s happiness is the foremost human right.” The concept of “foremost human rights” thus became an integral part of the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics, and the right to a happy life became a brand new human right.32 “The right of the people to a happy life” is comprehensive. It is a collective human right and should be realized as a human right enjoyed by every individual among the people. A happy life includes people’s material life and cultural life. People’s right to a happy life is highly integrated with all kinds of human rights. It is based on the right to life and development, covers the realization of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, as well as civil and political rights, focuses on the realization of people’s rights to equal participation and equal development, and aims to promote people’s free and all-round development.33 At present and in the future, the people’s right to a happy life will be gradually realized through the strategy of common prosperity for all. General Secretary Xi Jinping has pointed out that “To adapt to the changes in the principal contradiction facing Chinese society and better meet the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life, we must focus our efforts on promoting common prosperity for all.”34 Common prosperity is an essential requirement of socialism, an important feature of Chinese-style modernization, and a comprehensive concept. General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that “When we say common prosperity, we mean common prosperity for all the people, and prosperity for both material and cultural life of the people.”35 There is a very close relationship between common prosperity and human rights, which constitutes the main essence of “foremost human rights.
 
All human rights are closely related to each other. Basic human rights are the prerequisite for the realization of other human rights and are indispensable for the right owners to fully enjoy other rights. Foremost human rights occupy a dominant position in the human rights system, with rich connotation and strong comprehensiveness. Specific human rights are the extension and embodiment of the basic and foremost human rights in economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, and other fields. In this sense, the basic human rights and the foremost human rights are both abstract human rights, while economic rights, political rights, social rights, cultural rights, and environmental rights are specific human rights. General Secretary Xi Jinping has elaborated on various specific rights. On economic rights, he repeatedly pointed out the need to protect the property rights of citizens.36 On political rights, he stressed the need to protect people’s democratic rights, especially those of villagers in rural areas. He pointed out that we should safeguard the rights and interests of migrant villagers in their villages, and properly handle the relationship between “old villagers” and “new villagers” so that “new villagers” can enjoy basic public services in their places of residence.37 As for political rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out that people’s right to vote should be guaranteed. And at the same time, he said that “Democracy, in which the people have only the right to vote but not the right to participate widely, and in which they are awakened only at the time of voting and then go into hibernation, is formalistic.”38 Therefore, we need to more effectively implement the people’s rights to know, participate, express opinions, and supervise. As for social rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping particularly cares about workers’ rights and has put forward many requirements for employment policies, education, sports, religious affairs, medical and health care, social insurance, social security, and other work that directly affects social rights. As for cultural rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping said that “Developing cultural undertakings is the basic way to meet the spiritual and cultural needs of the people and protect their cultural rights and interests. ... We should adhere to the principle of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend, fully develop the press and publishing, radio, film, television, literature and art, philosophy and social sciences, and strive to improve public cultural services so that the people can enjoy richer, more diversified and higher-quality cultural lives.”39 Regarding environmental rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “A sound ecological environment is the fairest public good and is the most universally beneficial for people’s livelihood. Gold and silver mountains are of course important for people’s survival, but clear waters and green mountains are an important part of people’s happy life.”40 He has put forward a series of environmental protection and governance policies, which will continue to effectively fight for a blue sky, clear water, and pure land.
 
IV. Protection of Human Rights: Legal Protection and International Human Rights Governance
 
Human rights should not just remain in theory or on paper. They should also be translated into action and practice. How to transform theory into practice is a big problem for human rights theory, and many international human rights theories stop abruptly on this issue. In the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics, the protection of human rights constitutes a large part of the content and has a pivotal position. The reason is that the theory comes from practice. It is the summary and polished version of the century-long practice of human rights protection by the Communist Party of China, which has had a practical character since its founding.
 
At present, China has developed a path and model for respecting and protecting human rights: adhering to the unity of the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the socialist system and respecting and protecting human rights; combining the universality of human rights with China’s specific national conditions; and promoting human rights protection through development.41 While improving the level of human rights protection at home, China has also actively participated in international human rights governance, contributed to the world human rights cause, and carried out global human rights protection actions, demonstrating its sense of responsibility as a major country. According to General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important remarks on human rights protection, China’s human rights protection can be divided into two areas: the legal protection of human rights and international human rights governance.
 
The proposition of legal protection of human rights was formally put forward in the report to the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, which is an overall extension of the “judicial protection of human rights” proposed at the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2014. Under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law, the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics is promoted by law-based governance, law-based exercising of political power, and law-based administration. It has a relatively complete and mature institutional structure and adheres to the integrated construction of a law-based country, government, and society. The system for the rule of law consists of five sub-systems: a complete system of legal norms, an efficient system of legal implementation, a strict system of legal supervision, a powerful system of the legal guarantee, and a sound system of inner-Party regulations. Human rights protection is one of the important functions of China’s legal system. According to General Secretary Xi Jinping, the five parts of the socialist rule of law system with Chinese characteristics all fulfill the function of protecting human rights.
 
The first is the protection of human rights in the legal norms system. China’s legal system is based on the Constitution. Its main structure includes laws in seven legal forms, these are the Constitution and Constitution-related laws, civil law and commercial law, administrative law, economic law, social law, criminal law, litigation, and non-litigation procedure Law. China’s legal system is composed of a wide range of laws, administrative regulations, local regulations, and rules. General Secretary Xi Jinping attaches great importance to the human rights protection function of the Constitution, saying that “The basic rights and obligations of citizens are the core content of the Constitution, and the Constitution is the fundamental guarantee for every citizen to enjoy rights and fulfill obligations. ... We should make unremitting efforts to firmly establish the authority of the Constitution and laws in the whole society, so that the people fully trust the law and consciously apply the law, realizing that the Constitution is not only a code of conduct that all citizens must follow, but also a legal weapon to protect their rights.”42 In addition, General Secretary Xi Jinping also attaches great importance to civil law and social law, pointing out that the Civil Code is “of great significance to adhering to the people-centered development philosophy, safeguarding people’s rights and interests in accordance with the law, promoting the development of human rights in China, and promoting the modernization of national governance system and capacity.”43 He said that “We must strengthen legislation on social security, speed up the formulation or revision of relevant laws on social insurance, social assistance and social welfare, and fulfill the rights, obligations and responsibilities of governments at all levels, employers, individuals, and society in accordance with the law on social security.”44
 
The second is the human rights protection of the legal implementation system. The legal implementation system consists of the law enforcement and judicial systems, with administrative organs and judicial organs performing specific functions respectively.
 
On the function of law enforcement in protecting human rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “Administrative organs at all levels must perform their duties in accordance with the law, ensure that they must perform their statutory duties and do not do anything not authorized by the law, and never allow any organization or individual to have the privilege of exceeding the law.”45 Law enforcement should adhere to the principle of fairness and civility. “Strict, standardized, impartial, and civilized law enforcement is an integral whole, which should be accurately handled and fully implemented, rather than being partial and unfair. The best law enforcement can do is to convince people. We should foster a correct view of the rule of law, integrate the fight against crimes with the protection of human rights, the pursuit of efficiency with the realization of justice, and the purpose of law enforcement with the form of law enforcement. We should take law as the guidance, persuade people by reason and emotion, and strive to achieve the best legal, political and social effects.”46 On the function of the judicial system in protecting human rights, General Secretary Xi Jinping pays close attention to judicial reform and proposes to solve the problems of judicial injustice and low judicial credibility through reform. The criterion for judging the effectiveness of reform is the people’s satisfaction with the solution of problems.47 In addition, the judicial work needs “to uphold the principle that justice is for the people, improve the style of judicial work, and effectively solve the problem that people find it difficult to file lawsuits through enthusiastic service. ... Judicial workers should keep close contact with the people. If they do not understand the language of the people, do not understand the sufferings of the people, or do not know their demands, it is difficult to use the correct working methods, or play their due role. In that case, their service does not match their power. The law should not be cold. Judicial work is also people’s work.”48
 
The third is the human rights protection of the legal supervision system. The legal supervision system includes the supervision of the people’s congresses and the people’s democratic supervision. The scope of supervision covers legislation, law enforcement, judicial, law-abiding, and other legal links. General Secretary Xi Jinping said that “We should use the system of people’s congresses to carry forward the socialist spirit of rule of law and carry out and advance various undertakings and work of the state in accordance with laws and regulations enacted by people’s congresses and their standing committees.”49 “We should expand the people’s orderly participation in political affairs and ensure that they exercise democratic election,consultation, decision-making, management, and supervision in accordance with the law. We should uphold the unity, dignity, and authority of China’s legal system, strengthen the legal protection of human rights, and ensure that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedoms in accordance with the law.”50 The key question of legal supervision is unfair law enforcement and judicial injustice. Regarding this, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “We firmly oppose unfair law enforcement and judicial corruption.”51 “How can gangsters develop from small to large under our eyes? I think behind the scenes there is a law enforcement inaction. Some local law enforcement departments even cooperate with the gangs to act as their protective umbrella. Law enforcement represents the interests of the people and must not become an umbrella for family forces and criminal gangs.”52 Legal supervision should not only fight against corruption but also perfect the power supervision system.
 
Xi Jinping pointed out that “Corruption in the political and judicial organs and ranks is not only a matter of interests but also involves human rights and human lives. ... We need to improve the mechanism for the political and legal departments to divide their responsibilities, cooperate and check each other. We need to strengthen supervision and checks on law enforcement and judicial power through a sound supervision and management mechanism, an effective power balance mechanism, and a serious accountability mechanism, and minimize the opportunities for dereliction of power and rent-seeking by individuals.”53
 
The fourth is the human rights protection of the legal guarantee system. The legal guarantee system includes the public legal service system and the building of the legal workforce, which is directly related to the realization of human rights protection. General Secretary Xi Jinping attaches great importance to the public legal service system, pointing out that “We need to deepen the development of the public legal service system, speed up the integration of legal services such as lawyers, notaries, judicial appraisals, arbitration, judicial institutes, and people’s mediation, and establish as soon as possible a legal service network covering all procedures, time and space.”54 General Secretary Xi Jinping has called for strengthening legal aid for people in need. He said, “In particular, we must increase legal aid for people in need to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests, and speed up efforts to solve the problem of lack of lawyers in some places and insufficient resources of lawyers in less-developed areas. If the people have judicial needs and need to go to court, but they have no money nor lawyers, how can impartial justice come true?”55 In addition to legal aid from legal professionals, General Secretary Xi Jinping has also proposed that mass organizations should also protect people in need. “Mass organizations should pay more attention to the people in need... Trade unions, the Communist Youth League, women’s federations, disabled persons’ federations, and other groups should make more efforts in this regard.”56
 
The fifth is the human rights protection of the system of inner-Party regulations. The system of inner-Party regulations is the most original and creative normative system in China. This system is characterized by a “1+4” framework — under the leadership of the Party Constitution, it is composed of four major departments: the Party’s organizational regulation system, the Party’s leadership regulation system, the Party-building regulation system, and the Party’s supervision and security regulation system.57 Inner-Party regulations regulate Party affairs and do not directly regulate affairs on human rights. However, human rights can be indirectly protected by improving the Party’s leadership and governance model, strengthening the Party’s supervision, and limiting the abuse of public power, which cannot be undertaken by state laws. Specifically, the protection of human rights by inner-Party regulations is mainly reflected in two aspects. First, we ensure people’s democracy and safeguard their rights and interests through the Party’s leadership regulation system. Second, we fight corruption and avoid the abuse of public power through the Party’s supervision and security regulation system. General Secretary Xi Jinping has made clear remarks on both points. On the former, he said, “We should improve the Party’s way of leadership and governance to ensure that the Party leads the people in effectively governing the country.”58 “We need to improve the mechanism for fully listening to public opinions when making major policy decisions, review major issues that concern the vital interests of the people, and have strong public responses in accordance with the law and procedures. Publicity and hearings should be carried out when necessary.”59
 
On the latter, he said, “We need to extend full and strict Party self-governance to the community level, crack down on corruption that occurs near the people, and carry out special campaigns to alleviate poverty and improve people’s livelihoods. We will not relent to those who dare to extend their hands to money and materials for poverty alleviation and disaster relief. We will not relent to those who violate relevant policies and misappropriate compensation funds during land expropriation and demolition. We will resolutely investigate and punish cadres at grassroots stations and in communities for asking for benefits from the people, exploiting others, and favoring their relatives and friends. We should let our people truly feel that they have benefited from the Party’s good policies.”60 “We should strengthen supervision over the performance of poverty alleviation work, especially the elimination of extreme poverty in poor counties, supervise the consolidation of poverty alleviation achievements, and ensure stable poverty alleviation policies.”61 For the protection of human rights, the function of the inner-Party regulation system is unique and indispensable.
 
In addition to the legal protection of human rights at home, China has also extensively participated in the cause of human rights in the world, which can be summarized in two aspects. First, China is committed to comprehensively protecting the right to life and development of people all over the world. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has actively provided foreign aid to safeguard the rights to life and development of people of other countries, especially developing countries, within its capacity. Over the years, China has provided a large amount of assistance to developing countries for free, especially the least developed countries, to help them eradicate poverty, improve people’s livelihood and develop themselves. No political conditions are attached to such assistance.62 China has also taken an active part in international security governance and fought against terrorism and extremist forces. China is a major troop and financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, ensuring security for all people around the world. Since the founding of the PRC, China has been involved in global health governance. In the 1960s, China sent medical teams abroad to treat more than 260 million foreign patients.63 Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has kept the WHO and relevant countries informed of the domestic situation in an open, transparent, and responsible manner. China has provided timely information to the WHO and other countries, shared its experience in prevention, control, and treatment without reservation, and provided a great deal of support and assistance to countries in need. China has also carried out international cooperation in pandemic prevention and control, supported the WHO in playing a leading role in the global response, and played the role of the world’s largest supplier of necessary medical supplies, thus ensuring the right of people around the world to life to the greatest extent possible.64
 
Second, China works to promote reform of the global human rights governance, and joins hands with other countries to build a community with a shared future for human beings to ensure the international legal protection of human rights. In his congratulatory letter to the First South-South Human Rights Forum in 2017, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “The Chinese people are ready to work with people of all countries, including developing countries, to promote development through cooperation and human rights through development, and jointly build a community with a shared future for human beings.”65 In 2018, in a congratulatory letter to the Symposium Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Xi Jinping said that “The Chinese people are ready to work with people of other countries to uphold the common human values of peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom, safeguard human dignity and rights, promote more just, reasonable and inclusive global human rights governance, and jointly build a community with a shared future for human beings and create a better future for the world.”66
 
The promotion of global human rights governance and the building of a community with a shared future for human beings can be guaranteed through international law. General Secretary Xi Jinping attaches great importance to this and has mentioned relevant international legal documents many times. For example, he said, “We will fully implement the Program for Strengthening China-Africa Cooperation on Poverty Reduction and the Cooperation Initiative on Poverty Reduction in East Asia, and pay more attention to bringing the fruits of development to the local people.”67 “China has made important contributions to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and has been active in implementing the Agreement.”68 “China will host the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity in October this year. We will work with other parties to take global biodiversity governance to a new level and support positive outcomes of the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).”69
 
V. Conclusion
 
General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important remarks on respecting and protecting human rights are an important part of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. These important remarks have inherited and developed the basic principles of the Marxist view of human rights, taken into consideration China’s specific national conditions and the needs of the times, put forward many new ideas, concepts, and judgments, innovated and developed the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics, and provided authoritative guidance for the construction of the system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics. According to General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important remarks, the theoretical system of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics can be composed of four major parts: functions of human rights, subjects of human rights, connotations of human rights, and protection of human rights.
 
The functions of human rights consist of people’s interests and free and all-round development. The former is the basic function, while the latter is the ultimate function. The subjects of human rights include collective human rights and individual human rights. Individual human rights are the basis of collective human rights, and collective human rights are the guarantee of individual human rights. Only in the collective can individuals achieve comprehensive, free development and enjoy specific interests and choices through collective human rights. The connotations of human rights cover basic human rights, foremost human rights and specific human rights. The basic human rights consist of the rights to life and development, which are the prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. The foremost human right is the people’s right to a happy life, which plays a leading role in the human rights system. Both the basic human rights and the foremost human rights are abstract human rights and comprehensive rights. Specific rights are the extension and embodiment of abstract human rights in the fields of economy, politics, society, culture, environment, and so on, including economic rights, political rights, social rights, cultural rights, and environmental rights. Human rights protection consists of legal protection and international human rights governance. It is an important part of the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics and comes from China’s practice. The five parts of the socialist rule of law system with Chinese characteristics — the systems of legal norms, legal implementation, supervision, legal guarantee, and inner-Party regulations — all fulfill the function of protecting human rights. China has participated extensively in the cause of human rights in the world, protected the rights to subsistence and development of people in every corner of the world for a long time, actively promoted the reform of global governance of human rights and the construction of a community of a shared future for human beings, and demonstrated its sense of responsibility as a major country.
 
The functions of human rights define the essence and value of human rights and demonstrate the significance of human rights. The subjects of human rights point out the owner of human rights and help human rights find their owner. The connotations of human rights clarify the various types and mutual relations of human rights and enrich the specific contents of human rights theory. The protection of human rights provides the path to realizing human rights and is a bridge for human rights to transform from theory to reality. Each of the four theories has its division of work and is connected and closely related. Together, they constitute an organic system. Based on General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important remarks on respecting and protecting human rights, this paper has preliminarily completed the construction of the system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics. Of course, there are still many points to be supplemented and improved. General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “When it comes to human rights, we are always on the way; we can always do better.”70 The same is true of the system of socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics.
 
(Translated by CHEN Feng)
 
* MENG Tao ( 孟涛 ), Associate Professor at the School of Law, Renmin University of China, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era at Renmin University of China. Doctor of Laws. This paper is a periodical result of the “Research on Human Rights Theories and Discourses in Contemporary China” (Project No. 22XNA006) supported by the Scientific Research Foundation of Renmin University of China (sponsored by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities).
 
1. Zhang Weiqing, “A Socialist Declaration of Human Rights with Chinese Characteristics: Experience from the Study of White Paper on Human Rights in China,” Theoretical Exploration 2 (1992): 5. The author was a member of the Standing Committee of CPC Shanxi Provincial Committee and head of Shanxi Provincial Party Committee Publicity Department.
 
2. Gu Chunde, “Some Thoughts on The Construction of the System of Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Human Rights 1 (2011); Xian Kailin, “On the Logical Relationship of the System of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Human Rights 4 (2012); Chen Youwu and Li Buyun, “An Outline of the System of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Political Science and Law 5 (2012); Human Rights Theory Research Group of Guangzhou University, “An Outline of the System of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Chinese Journal of Law 2 (2015); Li Long and Ren Ying, “Research on the System of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Journal of South-Central University for Nationalities (Humanities and Social Sciences) 6 (2015); Li Long and Zheng Hua, “An Outline of the System of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Journal of Guangzhou University (Social Science) 1 (2017); Zhao Mingxia, “A New Summary of the System of Socialist Human Rights Theory with Chinese Characteristics,” Journal of The Party School of Yunnan Provincial Party Committee 1 (2018).
 
3. Leif Wenar, Rights, trans. Qu Zhenglong and Zhang Mengwan, in Theories of Rights rans. & eds. Zhu Zhen, Liu Xiaoping and Qu Zhenglong et al. (Shanghai: Shanghai Sanlian Bookstore, 2020), 32-34.
 
4. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 7 (Bejing: People's Publishing House, 2009), 928-929.
 
5. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2021), 6-7.
 
6. Ibid., 31.
 
7. Ibid.
 
8. Ibid., 54.
 
9. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 85.
 
10. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 8 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2009), 56.
 
11. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 36.
 
12. Lawrence M. Friedman, The Human Rights Culture: A Study in History and Context, trans. Guo Xiaoming ( Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 2018), 78-80.
 
13. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 119.
 
14. Zhang Wanhong and Liu Yuan, “The Development of Protection of the Rights of Specific Groups in China in the Last Decade,” Human Rights 6 (2020): 1.
 
15. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 161.
 
16. Ibid., 165.
 
17. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Selected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2009), 40.
 
18. Ibid., 56.
 
19. Liu Yeshen, Principles, Validity and the Concept of Law (Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 2018), 198-205.
 
20. Andrei Marmor, “Do We have a Right to Common Good?” The Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 14 (2001): 214-216.
 
21. Lu Guangjin, “An Outline of Human Rights Culture Construction in China in the New Era,” Human Rights, No. 2 (2021):.12.
 
22. Wei Xiaoxu, “The Expression of the Right to Life in China: The Progressive Development in Double Dimensions,” Human Rights 3 (2021): 55.
 
23. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 71.
 
24. Ibid., 56.
 
25. Ibid., 75.
 
26. Ibid., 72.
 
27. Ibid.
 
28. Ibid., 75.
 
29. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 54-55.
 
30. Ibid., 55.
 
31. Ibid., 60-61.
 
32. Liu Zhiqiang, “On the Right to a Happy Life as a Human Right,” Human Rights 6 (2020): 117-119.
 
33. Lu Guangjin, “Human Rights in the Historical Perspective: China's Path and Contribution,” Red Flag Manuscripts (Hongqi Wengao) 1 (2021): 17.
 
34. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 66.
 
35. Ibid., 67.
 
36. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 94, 101, 136 and 148.
 
37. Ibid., 88-89.
 
38. Ibid., 89.
 
39. Ibid., 104.
 
40. Ibid., 85.
 
41. Lu Guangjin, “Human Rights in the Historical Perspective: China's Path and Contribution,” 16.
 
42. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 135-136.
 
43. Ibid., 154.
 
44. Ibid., 158.
 
45. Ibid., 142-143.
 
46. Ibid., 153.
 
47. Ibid., 143-145.
 
48. Ibid., 137-138.
 
49. Ibid., 142.
 
50. Ibid., 147.
 
51. Ibid., 137.
 
52. Ibid., 150-151.
 
53. Ibid., 141.
 
54. Ibid., 151.
 
55. Ibid., 137-138.
 
56. Ibid., 119.
 
57. Meng Tao, “Formation and Improvement of Intra-Party Legal System,” Chinese Journal of Law 6 (2021): 28-29.
 
58. Institute of Party History and Literature of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, 147.
 
59. Ibid., 152.
 
60. Ibid., 147-148.
 
61. Ibid., 153.
 
62. Ibid., 168-179.
 
63. Ibid., 173.
 
64. Ibid., 184.
 
65. Ibid., 180.
 
66. Ibid., 181.
 
67. Ibid., 170-171.
 
68. Ibid., 186.
 
69. Ibid., 190.
 
70. Ibid., 3.
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