Human Rights

The issue of human rights was, for those willing to see it, a burning one for many decades. After the rise of Deng Xiaoping to power in the late 1970s, it remained a central problem within Chinese political life, although before 4 June, 1989, it was often not fashionable for governments, in particular the U.S. government, to take more than perfunctory notice of it.

Since 4 June, the Chinese authorities have often given in to international pressure to ameliorate human rights abuses in China, in particular when high-profile dissidents have been concerned. However, independent agencies specializing in human rights issues (such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Human Rights in China) have for years meticulously chronicled the on-going abuses of individuals within China. The Chinese authorities argue that Western values concerning human rights are unsuited to Chinese tradition and reality. They place an emphasis on economic rights (employment, food and shelter) over sovereign individual rights. The claim is made that individual rights are only possible when a nation's economy is more developed. Whether that is true theoretically or not is highly debatable. What is evident is that China is gradually changing due both to internal and external pressures.

Communism, in theory, seeks to improve the lives of the great majority. But for many Marxist analysts, human rights as commonly defined are "bourgeois" rights. Read "The State and Revolution," written by V. I. Lenin in 1917, which presents a traditional Marxist view of human rights.

In a 1978 essay, "Human Rights in China," Simon Leys discusses human rights and the nature of totalitarianism as perceived by some China "experts."

For more information and documents about human rights, visit the following websites: