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China’s Innovation Research on International Communication of Human Rights Discourse on Ethnic Issues
November 08,2022   By:CSHRS
China’s Innovation Research on International Communication of Human Rights Discourse on Ethnic Issues
 
ZHENG Liang*
 
Abstract: The Western system of human rights discourse plays a leading role in the world. Western media have used the human rights discourse to attack China, especially on ethnic issues in China. The theory of transcultural political economy of communication is very inspiring to the innovation research on international communication of China’s human rights discourse on ethnic issues. China’s requires an innovation in the international communication of human rights discourse on ethnic issues so as to reconstruct the historical view of human rights discourse. In particular, the discourse resources of human rights protection in China should be explored from the social revolution in the 20th century. Meanwhile, it is necessary to reconstruct the world discourse of human rights, that is, to construct the “human rights discourse of the Chinese nation,” and focus on human rights dialogue and cooperation with other civilizations and religious systems in the world. In particular, it is necessary to break through the “connection” or “integration” with the Western discourse, transcend the West-centered human rights discourse through competition and collision, reconstruct China’s human rights discourse system, and improve the capability of international communication.
 
Keywords: human rights · discourse · international communication · ethnic issues
 
I. Proposal of the Problem
 
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, has pointed out that: “For a long time, the Communist Party of China has led the people to solve the three major problems of ‘being beaten’, ‘starving’ and ‘being scolded’. After generations of unremitting efforts, the first two problems have been almost solved, but the problem of ‘being scolded’ has not been fundamentally solved.”1 One of the most important challenges China has faced in international communication2 since the 1980s is that, Western countries frequently attack and heckle China on human rights issues, especially on ethnic issues, such as Xinjiang-related issues and Tibet-related issues. China is repeatedly as accused of “violating human rights” by the West, and despite the great achievements China has made in its development of human rights domestically its weak position in the international human rights discourse has meant a passive response. Qiangba Puncog, Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 12th National People’s Congress, once said, “We need to be more active in carrying out international exchanges and international communication of human rights... to enhance China’s discourse power on human rights in the international community.”3 Therefore, how to break through and surpass the world hegemony of the Western human rights discourse and get rid of the weak position of passively responding has become an urgent issue. The core of this study is not to sort out the philosophical basis of the human rights concept and the development history of the world human rights movement, nor to criticize the Western countries’ false accusations on issues concerning China’s ethnic minorities, but to study the innovative path of the international communication strategy of China’s human rights discourse on ethnic issues, so as to help improve the international communication power of China’s human rights discourse and the overall human rights research in China. How to achieve a theoretical breakthrough in the human rights discourse, and how to enhance the international communication power of China’s human rights discourse on specific ethnic issues are the core issues of this paper. 
 
II. Literature Review
 
According to the United Nations, “human rights” are “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.”4 As for “discourse,” Norman Fairclough, a British linguist, believed that it is “not only a practice of representing the world but also describes, constitutes and builds the world in terms of meaning.”5 Therefore, discourse is constructive in the social sense. “Discourse as a political practice establishes, maintains, and changes power relations.”6 Michel Foucault further pointed out that: “Man empowers himself through the discourse. Without the production, accumulation, circulation, and function of discourse, these power relations themselves cannot be established and consolidated.”7 Since the end of World War II, the concept and discourse system of human rights have gradually occupied a prominent position in international exchanges. In particular, the Western discourse on human rights has established a dominant position in the power relationship with non-Western countries, and it has continued to play a dominant role in the international community based on continuous adjustment. The international human rights discourse is playing a constructive role in the world, and the discourse practice on human rights is also constructing power relations. After the end of World War II, the hegemony of the Western human rights discourse was leveraged to establish the legitimacy of the West by gradually shaping the Western concept of human rights into a “universal” “standard” and labeling non-Western countries as “human rights violators,” and use the Western-led international human rights mechanism to conduct “human rights record reviews” of specific non-Western countries year after year. As Zheng Leping said, “Discourse is an embodiment of power relations, which means some subjects have a say, while some don’t.”8 In essence, the Western human rights discourse aims to equate human rights based on Western liberalism as being universal human rights, so as to build and consolidate the moral legitimacy and hegemonic status of the West, which has been increasingly lost after the World War II.
 
Currently, there have been a lot of studies in the overlapping fields of human rights in China and the human rights discourse in China, and certain achievements have been made. Among them, a large proportion of studies have been carried out around the theme of “the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics.” Such studies suggest that to improve the expression of the human rights discourse with Chinese characteristics, it is necessary to explain the phenomenon of human rights scientifically, establish new standards of human rights value judgment, and pay attention to the institutional construction of the human rights discourse system.9 The core concepts of the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics are the rights and interests of the people, the Chinese Dream, and the community with a shared future for human beings.10 Meanwhile, to build the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics, we should reflect on the current human rights discourse in the academic circle, recognize the significance of the human rights discourse system in China, and get rid of the human rights standard of “following the West’s value of right and wrong,” clarify the construction ideas of China’s human rights discourse system, and deeply study the theory of China’s human rights discourse system.11 Some studies explored the logical construction of the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics, holding that the construction principles are subjectivity, equality, difference, and openness; the construction contents are the structure, logic, interpretation, and approach of human rights discourse; the expression of construction is the transformation of human rights symbol and discourse; and the function of construction is to enhance the international influence of the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics, promote global human rights governance and facilitate the transformation of conceptual human rights into institutional human rights.12
 
In addition to the research on the human rights discourse system with Chinese characteristics, there are also various thematic studies. First, for the changes in the human rights discourse in China, some studies hold that the human rights discourse of the Communist Party of China has experienced a pattern transformation from spontaneity to reflection, from refutation to construction, and from a defensive response to active advocacy, as well as a system transformation from emphasizing the right to subsistence to upholding the rights to subsistence and development as the primary human rights, and from emphasizing collective human rights to emphasizing individual human rights, and then to taking into account both domestic human rights and the destiny of mankind.13 Some other studies have suggested that the contemporary human rights discourse should not take the tradition of Western liberal philosophy as the only standard, especially, it should not be the interpretation of a single culture, but be formed based on equal dialogue between different cultures. In particular, they have argued that the concept of human rights based on Marxist philosophy plays a constructive role in the construction of modern human rights discourse14 because the Marxist human rights theory provides an outlet for China in the construction of international human rights discourse norms.15 Second, for the international discourse power of China’s human rights discourse system, some scholars believe that the construction of contemporary human rights discourse in China must be in line with China’s national conditions and reality, learn from the achievements of human civilization, and adhere to the innovation-driven development and problem-oriented approach.16 Some scholars have said that to improve its discourse power on human rights in the international community, China should pay attention to the innovation and supply of human rights theories, design and promote new international human rights development strategies, and get deeply involved in the operation and trend of international human rights institutions, and foster the high-end talents required for improving the discourse power on human rights in the world.17 Some scholars have proposed that China should strengthen its confidence in human rights development, dominate its human rights diplomacy with a “community with a shared future for human beings,” and change its strategy to attain international discourse power on human rights.18 In addition, China should also strengthen the construction of strategic diplomatic discourse in the field of human rights; actively participate in the international dialogue and cooperation on human rights to achieve the “connectivity” with the international human rights discourse system; break the discourse monopoly of Western countries and shape their narrative ability of human rights; actively respond to major human rights issues on international occasions; and strengthen the public diplomacy on human rights.19 For the protection of the human rights of ethnic minorities, some studies have elaborated on how to protect the human rights of ethnic minorities through the rule of law,20 while others have analyzed the protection of the human rights of ethnic minorities from the perspective of political rights21 and cultural rights.22 However, there are very few English studies on China’s human rights discourse. In one of his papers, Chen Dingding combed through the changes in China’s human rights discourse from 1978 to 2004. He believed that in addition to external pressure, China’s human rights discourse has “internalized” “international human rights norms” to some extent.23 Robert Weatherley studied China’s human rights discourse in his monograph. In his eyes, Marxism has had an important influence on the contemporary human rights discourse in China, but at the same time, it has also strengthened some ideas about rights in the Chinese Confucian tradition.24 But without exception, these English studies all took the Western liberal discourse system of human rights as a preexistent “norm” or “reference” to frame China’s human rights discourse system.
 
Based on the existing literature, although China has made some progress in the research of human rights discourse, there are also obvious problems. First, the vast majority of Chinese literature takes the current world human rights system and order formed based on Western liberalism as a natural product of historical development. Most of this literature traces the idea of human rights back to ancient Greece or the Magna Carta and looks for historical basis from the European Enlightenment and the French and American revolutions. There is no denying that the current human rights system in the world is inextricably linked with Europe, but the close connection between human rights as the dominant “utopia” in today’s world and the international political and economic pattern formed after the World War II, especially since the 1970s, cannot be ignored. The current Western-dominated human rights order is not a product of natural historical development, but a result of a series of post-war political and economic factors. Second, in terms of the construction of international discourse power in China’s human rights discourse system, there are lots of macro narrative studies, such as those on connotation, system, and logic. Although some studies proposed that the international communication of China’s human rights discourse should start with the Marxist human rights theory, there are few specific and targeted studies, especially those on the human rights discourse of ethnic issues indicating the Western attacks on China. Third, the formation of the contemporary human rights discourse system in China cannot be separated from the Chinese social revolution in the 20th century, but there is a lack of research on the relationship between China’s human rights discourse system and the Chinese revolution presently. This study starts from the above situation of human rights and discourse research in China.
 
III. Three Approaches for the Innovation of International Communication of Human Rights Discourse on Ethnic Issues
 
If the human rights discourse is a practice of describing, constituting, and building the world and a manifestation of power relations, the construction and competition of international human rights discourse is a process of communication, that is, trans-cultural communication among countries. For years, China and Western countries represented by the United States have been in a fierce confrontation in the field of human rights, especially in the discourse of human rights. The Western human rights discourse constructed based on history and reality has always occupied a leading position, while China has long been on the defensive in the collision and struggle in this field. Looking back on the competition between China and the West in human rights discourse in the past 30 years, the weakness of China’s human rights discourse cannot be explained only from the technical level. In other words, if China (according to suggestions of some literature) “makes full use of various media means, and tells the story of human rights with Chinese characteristics completely and efficiently, with full consideration of the characteristics of the Western audience”, can it avoid the fate of “being scolded”, or can it have the right to fully participate in international discourse competition on human rights? The answer is no. Furthermore, even if China fully integrates into the Western human rights discourse system, or does better in human rights issues, the West will not give up the double standard on human rights discourse, which is determined by the difference in the paths and systems between China and the West. Because of these differences, we need to take into account the differences and collisions between Chinese and Western systems and political and economic structures when analyzing the international communication of human rights discourse. The transcultural political economy of communication can provide an excellent theoretical perspective for research, because the research of transcultural political economy of communication analyzes such issues as communication, political economy structure, and social development in the context of the collision among different cultures in the global capitalist system, and focuses on the dynamic transformation and historical evolution of social systems as well as the social and historical embeddedness of communication and culture and the initiative of social subjects.25 It must be pointed out that the concept of “trans-cultural” used in this paper is not politicized “cross-cultural” or “inter-cultural” in the conventional sense, but has political implications. Zhao Yuezhi believes that the concept of “trans-cultural” based on the word “transculturation” could be understood as a process of mutual transformation of different cultures and the formation of a new culture in the colonial collision of unequal power relations. This process involves the loss and change of original cultural factors and absorption of a new culture.26 Furthermore, the concept of transcultural that originated from the post-colonial context emphasizes the hybridity, process, formation, and contention of cultures. The“transformation” of different cultures during the collision and struggle is at the core of this concept.27 “On the one hand, it is about communication; on the other hand, it reflects a collision between different institutions and systems, specifically, a collision between China and the United States.”28 Zhao Yuezhi thought that the research of transcultural political economy of communication is to conduct the research on the mutual construction of communication and political and economic power from the perspective of global history and transcultural context more consciously, and reflect on the temporal view of history, spatial view of world, and epistemology of cultural essentialism and relativism.29 Specifically, the so-called “temporal view of history” refers to the historical view that regards the rise of capitalism and colonial expansion as the “zero point of time,” which neglects the attention to the world in the pre-capitalist period. The “spatial view of the world” refers to taking the West as the direction of “integration” and “alignment,” which ignores the revolutionary history of non-Western countries, especially China. Finally, Zhao Yuezhi held that to avoid the “epistemology of cultural essentialism and relativism” is to break the tendency of dividing human civilization into “European civilization and Chinese civilization,” and pay more attention to the integration and universality of human civilization. It can be said that the above problems pointed out by Zhao Yuezhi exist in the research of human rights discourse in China. Presently, the competition between China and the West for primacy in the human rights discourse is becoming increasingly fierce. The transcultural political economy of communication has provided a theoretical possibility for innovating the international communication of human rights discourse in China and reconstructing the international discourse system of human rights. In view of the current situation that the international communication of human rights discourse on ethnic issues in China is on the defensive, this paper focuses on the innovation of international communication of human rights discourse on ethnic issues in China from the following three perspectives: reconstructing the historical discourse of human rights, reconstructing the world discourse of human rights and transcending the West-centered discourse of human rights.
 
A. Reconstructing the historical discourse of human rights
 
The core link of reconstructing the historical discourse of human rights is to break the current understanding and tendency that Chinese literature takes the contemporary Western liberal human rights system as the result of historical natural development. Presently, when it comes to the history of the concept of human rights, Chinese literature often traces it back to the European Enlightenment, cited the expositions on natural rights by thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Hugo Grotius, and Montesquieu, and mentions the role and influence of the Magna Carta, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen during the French Revolution, and the United States Declaration of Independence on the current liberal human rights system, along with the Atlantic Charter during the World War II, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966. This seems to be the historical background of the formation of the human rights discourse and system in today’s world. However, history is far from that simple.
 
In 2010, Samuel Moyn, a professor at Harvard University, published the Last Utopia: Human Rights in History,30 in which he pointed out that today’s human rights system is not a natural development or choice of history, but the result of international political and economic struggles since the 1970s, especially the joint work of the dissidents in Eastern Europe, the opposition to right-wing authoritarianism in Latin America and the Carter administration of the United States. Samuel Moyn noted, “the droits del’ homme that powered early modern revolution and 19th-century politics need to be rigorously distinguished from the ‘human rights’ coined in the 1940s that have grown so appealing in the last few decades.”31 And in real history, “Only rarely, however, were human rights understood as a departure from the persistent framework of nation-states that would provide that better life. And whether as one way to express the principles for all postwar societies or even as an aspiration to transcend the nation-state, the concept never did percolate in public and around the world with anything like the currency it acquired later.”32 It can be seen that until the 1950s, the “human rights” we are familiar with today were not a dominant concept in the international community, let alone a complete discourse system. In particular, at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference and in its subsequent agreements about the postwar international order, “human rights were ignored, and they were merely an ornament in the Charter of the United Nations.”33
 
How did the discourse on human rights rise after World War II? Samuel Moyn believed that the end of post-war colonialism, the crisis of post-colonial countries, and relevant activities of the two camps and some international organizations (e.g., Amnesty International) during the Cold War provided important conditions for the rise of the “human rights” discourse. Samuel Moyn noted that the political turn of the Jimmy Carter administration in the 1970s played a key role in the rise of the contemporary human rights discourse. Carter “spared no effort to commit moral transcendence of politics, and moved ‘human rights’ from grassroots mobilization to the center of global rhetoric.”34 “It was the reestablishment of the country’s moral and missionary credentials in the world ‘after groveling in the moral muck so long’ that determined the American meaning of a rights-based internationalism.”35 Historically, Samuel Moyn held that the rise of human rights as a utopia is simply a result of the failure of other utopias in human history. Therefore, human rights as a form of utopia will inevitably be replaced by another form of utopia in the future.
 
The expositions of Samuel Moyn point out the opportunity to reconstruct the history of the contemporary international discourse on human rights. The contemporary human rights discourse system is neither a natural result of Western historical development, nor an end of the protection of individual rights, but a phenomenon and stage in the development history of the Western capitalist system only. Therefore, we must go beyond the West-centered historical view of human rights discourse, review and explore human rights discourse resources beyond the capitalist system, especially the successful experience of the socialist camp in the human rights struggle against the West during the Cold War (during the Cold War, the socialist countries and the newly independent countries of the Third World were the active aggressors, and the United States was the passive defender because the racist policies and suppression of civil rights implemented by the United States were severely criticized by the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union36), and the history of human rights construction and protection of China during the socialist construction. In other words, it is to break through the “temporal view of history” that regards the Western human rights discourse system as the starting point of human rights discourse research. Actually, in terms of the human rights discourse on ethnic issues, China carried out the democratic reform and people’s democracy construction in Xinjiang successfully in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In 1949, the People’s Government of Xinjiang Province was established. In accordance with the state system of practicing the people’s democratic dictatorship and the ethnic policy of equality among all ethnic groups stipulated in the Common Program of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Xinjiang formulated specific policies for its administration: “All ethnic groups in Xinjiang shall be entirely equal, and shall uphold unity and cooperation, and oppose public enemies within them. All ethnic groups shall have the freedom to develop their spoken and written languages and maintain or reform their customs and religious beliefs. Discrimination, oppression, revenge, vendetta, and acts destroying the solidarity of ethnic groups shall be prohibited.”37 It must be pointed out that in 1949, the world was still dominated by the “self-determination” discourse of colonies striving for independence after the World War II, and the discourse of human rights had not yet come to the fore. The policy of the Xinjiang local government indicates that the people’s government ensures the equality of all ethnic groups and their rights to be the masters of the country. Measured by the human rights discourse, this is typical protection of civil and political rights. New China put the human rights protection of ethnic minorities on the agenda immediately after its founding and institutionally guaranteed them, which not only preceded the formation of the contemporary human rights discourse system but also provided a sound foundation for the socialist human rights protection system in China.
 
To consolidate the civil and political rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, the central government carried out a series of reforms in Xinjiang, including rent reduction, anti-hegemony, and land reform. In October 1951, the central government began to conduct a campaign of rent reduction and anti-hegemony in agricultural areas in Xinjiang.38 The campaign of rent reduction and anti-hegemony lasting for more than half a year defeated the rule of the landlord class politically by punishing despotic landlords in accordance with the law and laid a solid foundation for the complete elimination of the ruling system of the landlord class. Through the rent reduction and end-of-tenancy settlement, the feudal forces were economically weakened and the economic rights of peasants were safeguarded. More than 70 percent of the people of all ethnic groups received benefits such as cash and grain, and farners lived a better life.39 In the autumn of 1952, Xinjiang began to carry out land reform. Before the land reform, landlords and rich peasants, who accounted for less than 10 percent of the rural population, held up to 80 percent of the land, while poorest farmers and farm laborers, who accounted for more than 90 percent of the population, held the rest. The oppression and exploitation of peasants by the landlord class was extremely barbaric and cruel. This is the fundamental reason why the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang have long lagged behind in politics, economy, and culture.40 After the land reform in 1,520 townships, 630,000 poor peasant households (3.32 million people) were allocated land and property in Xinjiang. With the land reform that lasted more than a year, Xinjiang replaced the feudal land ownership with peasant land ownership, which enabled the poor peasants who had little or no land to acquire land, and met their needs for land and means of production.41 The two major reform movements in Xinjiang in the early days of the founding of New China are rarely mentioned in the current fierce struggle between China and the West on human rights discourse. However, from the perspective of human rights discourse, the two movements are exactly the combination of civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights. As early as 70 years ago, before the contemporary liberal human rights discourse system was formed in the West, the Chinese government had fully and effectively safeguarded human rights in the ethnic border areas through the will of the state. China’s efforts to protect human rights in Xinjiang during the period of socialist construction should be the historical discourse basis for breaking through the Western liberal human rights discourse, especially Western attacks on ethnic issues in China.
 
B. Reconstructing the world discourse of human rights
 
The reconstruction of the world discourse of human rights should be based on how to understand and define the “world”. In some Chinese literature, this “world” is equivalent to the Western world. This literature regards the Western human rights concept, history, system, and development path as the human rights history and system in the world by default, and considers them be the norms and the starting point and reference for research. Admittedly, the Western human rights system has its advanced points and is objectively the dominant human rights discourse system in the world. However, this does not mean that China should take the Western human rights discourse as a reference “standard” with which it should align and integrate, especially when it comes to ethnic issues. As mentioned above, can the Western human rights discourse system accept China, and can China avoid the fate of “being scolded” if China is infinitely closer to the Western human rights discourse system? Currently, this question is still not answered in much literature on “Strategies for telling the story of human rights in China well.” China’s history and reality determine that China’s human rights discourse system cannot be integrated with the Western human rights discourse system.
 
In terms of the discourse on ethnic human rights, the difference between China and the West is first reflected in the different meanings of “nation” in “Chinese nation” and “nation-state” in the West. According to J. V. Stalin, “a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people,formed based on the common possession of four principal characteristics, namely: a common language, a common territory, a common economic life, and a common psychological make-up manifested in common specific features of national culture.”42 The modern “nation-state” system was formed after the “Peace of Westphalia” in Europe, and it is characterized by one nation and one state,43while the formation of the Chinese nation has a completely different history from the emergence of “nations” in Europe. Fei Xiaotong once said, “The Chinese nation, as a self-conscious national entity, emerged from the confrontation between China and the Western powers over the past 100 years, but as a free national entity, it was formed in the history of thousands of years.”44 Wang Hui’s research also shows that the “Chinese nation” is essentially different from the “nation-state” in Europe. “The Chinese revolution did not follow the European model of separating the original monarchy from imperial rule, but formed a single sovereign state through the combination of nation and state based on the Qing Dynasty.”45 From Zhang Taiyan to Sun Yat-sen, China’s early bourgeois revolutionaries finally chose a multi-ethnic country, not a single-nation state in the democratic revolution. This identification with the “Chinese nation” was later inherited by the Chinese socialist revolution. Thus, the concept of “Chinese nation” can only be fully and comprehensively expressed in the context of the Chinese revolution, which is fundamentally different from the history of “one nation, one state” in Europe. At present, the “oppression-resistance” discourse system often used in the Western society for China’s ethnic issues is the result of the West’s “national” awareness, and under this discourse system, the ethnic relations and ethnic issues in China will finally lead to a separation of nationalities.
 
Since the construction of the Chinese nation has gone beyond the Western history of nationalism, China’s human rights discourse on ethnic issues can no longer “integrate” into the Western human rights discourse system. In the current human rights discourse system, the narrative about the Communist Party of China carrying out the democratic revolution in Xinjiang and leading millions of oppressed ethnic minority people to liberation and become part of the Chinese nation has not received effective attention, but it is precisely what may constitute the most effective human rights discourse on ethnic issues. Therefore, we must establish the “human rights discourse of the Chinese nation” that transcends the single-nation (Han nationality) mode and is based on multiple nationalities and the Chinese revolutionary history, reform the human rights discourse system featuring “nation-state” an“oppression-resistance” of Western liberalism with the discourse system characterized by the common pursuit of independence and equality of all nationalities in China, and completely reconstruct the “spatial view of the world” that takes the Western human rights discourse system as the one to be “aligned with.”
 
Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the world discourse on human rights must take into account non-Western civilizations in the world. In terms of ethnic issues, it is essential to reconstruct the relationship with the Islamic world in the human rights discourse. The Chinese nation traditionally belongs to the Confucian civilization. However, in Xinjiang many religions coexist, with Islam as the predominant one, the majority of the population believes in Islam. Viewed from the Middle East, Xinjiang is just the edge of Islamic culture. That is to say, Xinjiang is located at the boundary between Confucian civilization and Islamic civilization, which provides a platform for China to communicate with the Islamic world and reconstruct the human rights discourse. Confucian civilization and Islamic civilization do have something in common. The “principle” in Confucian civilization is similar to the “truth” in Islamic civilization. Confucian civilization and Islamic civilization both attach importance to the way of heaven and the way of humans, focus on social life and real life, and advocate fairness, justice, goodness, and benevolence.46 In the aspect of morality, both civilizations advocate the virtue and lifestyle characterized by honesty, perseverance, struggle, modesty, and good deeds, pursue the good in people, uphold the doctrine of the mean, and attach importance to the status of “people” and advocate group values, and both of them are tolerant and practical.47 China has established close cooperative relations with Islamic countries in the practice of human rights discourse. In July 2019, 24 Western countries criticized China’s Xinjiang policy at the UN Human Rights Council on the grounds of “a violation of human rights.” But a few days later, ambassadors of more than 50 countries to Geneva, Switzerland signed a letter to the UN Human Rights Council in support of China’s Xinjiang policy, including 28 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.48 Of the 24 countries that criticized China, none was a Muslim country, yet 28 Muslim countries showed their support for China’s Xinjiang policy. Is it just because, as some Western media said, “these countries covet their economic and trade interests with China”? Muslim countries are mostly former colonial countries that became independent after World War II. They share with China a revolutionary history of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism and oppose Western interference in their internal affairs under the pretext of human rights. The common ideas and pursuit of China and the Islamic world in the human rights discourse are a solid foundation for the reconstruction of the West-centered world view of human rights.
 
C. Transcending the West-centered discourse on human rights
 
At present, the Western liberal human rights discourse has largely been regarded as the “universal” discourse system. Many non-Western countries implement the discourse in practice intentionally or unintentionally and even the Western human rights discourse as a “standard.” The Western human rights discourse, which thus enjoys a hegemonic position, in turn, continues to strengthen the West-dominated world political and economic system. To transcend the Western human rights discourse system in practice, the cognitive barrier of equating the contemporary human rights system with the Western human rights system (cultural essentialism) must be broken down. Transcending the West-centered discourse should start with analyzing the following three groups of concepts: “sovereignty and human rights”, “political rights and economic and cultural rights”, and “right to development and developmentalism”.
 
Human rights in the Western liberal human rights discourse system refer to the inalienable rights granted to individuals independent of society, especially independent of the state, namely, “the rights of man.” The subject of human rights can only be individuals.49 Individual rights are more based on the negative liberty of individuals and are opposite to the state. In the eyes of the West, human rights are a kind of value derived from the natural nature of humans, and applicable to all human individuals, therefore human rights must be above sovereignty.50 But historically, until the end of World War II, such human rights were never a priority for the Western imperialist powers, who were most concerned with the colonial interests of their countries. In 1950, when the international covenants on human rights were under discussion at the United Nations General Assembly, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands put forward an additional “colonial proposal” of the Covenants, aiming to exclude the so-called non-self-governing territories under their colonial rule from the scope of the International Covenants on Human Rights. The proposal stressed that human rights do not apply to the people of the colonies on the grounds of social and cultural differences.51 Fortunately, the additional proposal was rejected by most countries during the vote. In this regard, Samuel Moyn said, “Whether one celebrates or rues this momentous day, the restoration of human rights to the principle of self-determination emphasized their necessary basis in collectivity and sovereignty as the first and most important threshold rights.”52 Thus, it is hard for most non-Western countries to accept the discourse of “human rights above sovereignty”.
 
Former colonial countries which became independent after World War II are particularly sensitive to such a discourse because of their long history of being subject to imperialist interference in their internal affairs. For the vast number of developing countries, “human rights above sovereignty” is unacceptable.53 For Western countries, human rights can be completely abandoned when it comes to defending the interests of their colonial powers. However, after the war, most former colonial countries gained independence, and the colonial system of imperialism collapsed. To maintain its hegemonic position, the West raised the banner of “human rights above sovereignty.” But this discourse is essentially nothing more than a moral argument for the West to promote and maintain hegemony. The discourse of “human rights above sovereignty” has become an excuse for Western countries to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries by using ethnic issues around the world since the second half of the 20th century (including Western countries accusing China of “violating human rights” in Xinjiang). Either Kosovo in the late 1990s or Libya and Syria in the 2010s witnessed the disaster and harm brought by the Western human rights discourse in reality. The Western discourse of “human rights above sovereignty” has completely blotted out the historical inheritance of sovereign countries in human rights protection, because even in modern Europe, sovereign countries are the cornerstone underpinning human rights. Without the support and protection of the state, human rights are nothing but castles in the air.
 
For the West, the relationship between “political rights and economic, social and cultural rights” is very clear: political rights come first. In Western countries, since the 17th and 18th centuries, the traditional view of human rights has only recognized civil and political rights, because “Economic, social and cultural rights are not justiciable and cannot be remedied through judicial channels because they involve the allocation of national resources.”54 This recognition of human rights in Western countries is also clearly reflected in international declarations and conventions on human rights. For example, the first 21 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, specify civil and political rights and put them at the top of the list, which is a continuation of the first generation of human rights put forward during the French Revolution and the American Revolution in the 18th century.55 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which came into force in 1976, were originally one covenant but had to be ratified in the form of two covenants due to the opposition from Western countries. This reflects the differences between the Western camp and the socialist camp on human rights during the Cold War. The socialist camp adhered to 
the inseparability of political rights and economic and cultural rights, but the West still prevailed in the end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two covenants constitute the first and second generations of human rights according to Karel Vasak, a French scholar, while the third generation of human rights focuses more on the right to development.56 For China, the rights to subsistence and development should be as important as political rights. When talking about the overall development of man, Marx mentioned “all-round development of all his abilities,”57 “development of human powers as an end in itself,”58 and “every member of society can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom,”59 etc. However, free choice alone cannot ensure the cultivation and realization of human abilities. It must be based on the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, especially the right to education. The Western liberal human rights discourse regards the negative right to liberty as the priority among human rights and even excludes economic, social, and cultural rights from the scope of human rights. This cognition of human rights only reflects the economic, social, cultural, and institutional conditions in the special context of Europe and America. For developing countries, safeguarding the rights of people to subsistence and development is of greater urgency and should be given higher priority.60 In terms of the right to development in the Chinese context, it should be particularly noted that our “development” should not only guarantee the people’s basic right to subsistence and development, but also avoid falling into the trap of “developmentalism,” and thus avoid getting into a passive situation in the discourse of human rights.
 
As mentioned above, compared with the previous two generations of human rights, the “third generation” of human rights puts more emphasis on the right to individual development, which is a result of unremitting efforts of the international socialist camp during the Cold War. Chang Jian believed that China’s proposal to take the rights to subsistence and development as the primary human rights and the right to development as the core of the human rights discourse system since the 1990s is a manifestation of surpassing the Western mainstream human rights discourse system centered on the right to individual liberty, which serves the interests of developing countries.61 However, in reality, most of the discourse about development we in the media are not human development in the sense of human rights, but development in the sense of Western modernization, or “developmentalism”. Developmentalism takes economic growth as the center and holds that economic development is the prerequisite for social progress and political development. It presupposes the development sequence of industrialization and democratization and holds that all social contradictions and problems will be smoothly solved with the economic growth and consolidation of the democratic system.62 Western developmentalism is not pure economic growth, nor does it focus on the overall development of individuals, but implies the political motives of the so-called democratization and liberalization in Western politics. To reconstruct the right to development on ethnic issues is to replace the “developmentalism” in the modern sense with the development discourse in the sense of human rights. To reconstruct the West-centered discourse that transcends human rights is essentially to break through the essentialist cognition of taking the Western liberal human rights system as a “universal”, “standard” discourse system, and to realize that various cultures around the world have their own traditions about “human rights,” and the Western human rights discourse system is only one of such traditions, rather than absolute “truth”
 
IV. Conclusion
 
The Western human rights discourse system is a discourse system that occupies a hegemonic position in today’s world, but the hegemony is neither a congenital inheritance, nor a result of natural historical evolution, but a result of the withdrawal of other “utopian” ideals and the final victory of the Western human rights discourse system in the world political and economic competition since World War II, especially since the 1970s. The human rights scholar Jack Donnelly argued that this victory ultimately made human rights the “standard of civilization” again in the West.63 Using its own discourse advantages, the West is constantly promoting this standard into a “universal” reference system in the world. Western countries have built this system into a weapon to intervene in the internal affairs of non-Western countries/non-Western allies (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky described the double standard of the United States on human rights and their disastrous consequences in detail in their monograph64) and cause unrest and disasters around the world. Especially on ethnic issues, from Kosovo in 1999 to Libya and Syria in 2011, the West has directly or indirectly intervened in the internal affairs of a series of sovereign countries under the banner of “human rights above sovereignty,” causing extensive and serious humanitarian disasters.
 
In recent years, Western society has seen increasingly serious problems such as the gap between the rich and the poor, social divisions, and the rise of populism, making the Western human rights discourse devoid of content. Therefore, the innovation of China’s human rights discourse system must make a breakthrough in the existing Western liberal human rights discourse system, which is also the requirement for subjectivity and initiative in China’s human rights discourse system. The reconstruction of the human rights discourse on ethnic issues should go beyond the West-centered theory, that is, the cognition of taking the Western human rights discourse as a “universal” or “standard” discourse. The different historical and cultural backgrounds of China and the West determine that China has a fundamentally different understanding of the Western human rights discourse system. The collision between China and the West on human rights issues will be around for a long time. As a result of this collision, China should endow human rights with a new connotation during the collision, instead of integrating into or keeping in line with the Western human rights discourse system, and gradually form a human rights discourse system that is of greater global significance.
 
(Translated by SHEN Jinjun)
 
* ZHENG Liang ( 郑亮 ), Professor of School of Journalism & Communication, Jinan University. This paper is a phased result of the “Study on International Communication Strategy of Xinjiang-related Issues”, a major special commissioned project of the National Social Science Fund of China in 2020 (Project Approval No. 20@ZH033).
 
1. Xi Jinping, “Speech at the National Party School Working Conference”, QIUSHI 9 (2016).
 
2. This paper uses the concept of “international communication” rather than “global communication”, because in the process of the communication of human rights discourse on ethnic issues, the subjects in opposition to China are still the Western sovereign countries represented by the United States. In other words, China is still competing with sovereign countries or groups of sovereign countries in terms of the discourse of human rights issues. Therefore, it is appropriate to use the concept of “international communication” to refer to China’s international discourse construction on human rights issues.
 
3. The seminar on “Building the Discourse System of Human Rights in China in the New Era” was held in Changsha, Xinhua Net, accessed February 15, 2022, http://www. xinhuanet. com/ 2018-04/12/c_ 1122674882. htm.
 
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5. Norman Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change, translated by Yin Xiaorong (Beijing: Huaxia Publishing House, 2003), 60.
 
6. Ibid., 62.
 
7. Michel Foucault, Eyes of Power: An Interview with Foucault, translated by Yan Feng (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1997), 226.
 
8. Zheng Leping, Transcending Modernism and Post-modernism: On the construction of a New Space of Social Theory (Shanghai: Shanghai Education Press, 2003), 65.
 
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27. Ibid., 119. 
 
28. Zhao Yuezhi, “Basic Framework of Transcultural Political Economy of Communication”, in Collections of Frontier Lectures on Journalism and Communication Studies”, Tsinghua University, vol. 3 (Beijing: Tsinghua University Press, 2016), 63.
 
29. Zhai Dongtang, “On the Protection of Minority Cultural Rights in China”, 14-41.
 
30. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, translated by Wang Shaoqing and Tao Lixing (Beijing: The Commercial Press, 2016).
 
31. Ibid., 13.
 
32. Ibid., 42.
 
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34. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, 153.
 
35. Ibid., 158.
 
36. Zhao Yuezhi, “Basic Framework of Transcultural Political Economy of Communication”, 69.
 
37. Wang Shuanqian, Xinjiang Towards the 21st Century (Economy) (Beijing: Xinjiang People’s Press, 1999), 86.
 
38. Tian Weijiang, “Reflections after Great Changes in History — A Review of Social Reform Movement in Xinjiang in the 1950s”, Northwestern Journal of Ethnology 2 (1998): 38.
 
39. Ibid., 39.
 
40. the CPC Xinjiang Bureau, Resolution on the Implementation of Land Reform in Xinjiang Agricultural Areas, 1952.
 
41. Tian Weijiang, “A Review of Democratic Reform and Socialist Transformation in Xinjiang Agricultural Areas”, The Western Regions Studies 4 (1997): 107.
 
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45. Wang Hui, The Rise of Modern Thoughts in China (Volume I) (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2004), 97.
 
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49. Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, 2001), 118.
 
50. A. John Simmons,“Human Rights and World Citizenship: The Universality of Human Rights in Kant and Locke”, in Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations (Beijing: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
 
51. Liu He, Ideological Genealogy of International Law: From Crudeness to Global Domination, Origins of the Global Order: From the Meridian Lines to the Standard of Civilization (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2016), 92.
 
52. Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, 95.
 
53. Sun Li, “The Exploration and Innovation of Marxism in Deng Xiaoping’s Human Rights Thought”, Journal of Social Sciences 5 (2005): 44-45.
 
54. Manfred Nowak, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary, translated by Sun Shiyan and Bi Xiaoqing (Beijing: SDX Joint Publishing Company, 2008), 5.
 
55. Schildhaus A, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, 2009.
 
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58. Karl Marx, Das Kapital (vol. 3) (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2018), 929.
 
59. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2018), 69.
 
60. Liu Ming, “The Construction of Human Rights Discourse in the Context of Political Philosophy and the Chinese Perspective”, 45.
 
61. Chang Jian, “Reconstructing the Human Rights Discourse System with the Right to Development as the Core”, Frontline 8 (2017): 112.
 
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64. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism: The Political Economy of Human Rights: volume I (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014).
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