In 1948, after the horrors of WW2, the newly created United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is now recognised by most nations around the world as the benchmark when talking about human rights.
There are 33 human rights listed in total. Some of the famous ones include:
- Right to education
- Right to health and wellbeing
- Right to private property
- Right to a fair and public trial
- Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- Right to freedom of assembly and association
For the full text of the declaration see: https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
China has signed up to this declaration, but it chooses to emphasise some rights more than others. It argues that it has focused on areas like the rights to education and health, and made huge progress in these areas over the last 40 years. But it lags behind with many of the other rights. And it places the ‘rights’ of collective Chinese society far above the rights of the individual.
This affect numerous aspects of Chinese society.
- Political System: China is a one party state ruled by the Communist China Party. Interestingly though they do not refer to their national philosophy as being communist, but rather as ‘socialism with Chinese principles’. This mantra runs through most political speeches and documents. Anything not recognised as being authentically socialist with Chinese principles is likely to be rejected, and possibly outlawed. Until recently there was a level of democracy within the party, since the congress would elect the President and top leadership team for five or ten year teams. However, the current President, Xi Jinping, recently removed the system of presidential terms, meaning he can remain in power indefinitely.
- Legal System: In most countries the legal system is independent of the government, provides independent rulings on the law, and can act as a check on the power of a government that seeks to act beyond its powers. In China the legal system is simply an extension of government. Any judges who make rulings against the wishes of the party are intimidated, removed or even arrested.
- Economic System: In recent years China has embraced capitalism within its economy. Many companies are free to do business (provided they do nothing against the principles of socialism with Chinese principles). This has led to a growing private sector, a vastly expanded middle class, and is credited with lifting millions of Chinese people out of poverty. But there remain huge problems with corruption, with exploitative working conditions, and with land confiscation in many areas.
- Media: The Great Firewall of China blocks or limits a number of websites and social media platforms, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc. Only access to government approved websites is allowed. And the ruling party controls all television, radio and print media content.
Through this huge amount of state power, the CPP infringes on numerous human rights.
Right to Life
Chinese activists who choose to protest or even simply voice opinions that are perceived to criticize or go against CPP doctrine regularly face detainment, house arrest, denial of medical treatment and torture.
Right to Free Speech
Intellectuals (including academics, lawyers and journalists) and ordinary citizens are afraid to say anything that can be interpreted as critical of the CPP. In school classrooms pupils are taught history from a specifically Chinese perspective, with many facts being omitted or glossed over. Different interpretations of history are not allowed, and different opinions on social media are vigorously discouraged by the party.
Right to Privacy
China uses technology to track the daily lives of many of its citizens. A network of CCTV and paid party agents, coupled with sophisticated facial recognition software, allows the government to keep an accurate track on where and what individual citizens are doing, right down to following and mapping their daily or weekly routines.
Right to Nationality
There are over 60 recognized ethnic minorities across China, but most face their cultures being dominated by that of the ruling Han Chinese. This occurs through suppression of language, of history, and even of ancient customs. The Tibetan people live under Chinese rule and are not allowed to protest, the Taiwanese people live under fear of Chinese invasion, and the people of Hong Kong seek to maintain a precarious balance of maintaining their economic prosperity and relative political freedom, whilst also being further influenced by Beijing through the One China Two Systems policy.
Right to Freedom of Thought
The Falun Gong, who practice an eastern form of meditation, have long been persecuted and outlawed in China. In the western Xinjiang region there are reports of up to one million Uigyhar Muslims being incarcerated in concentration camps, and forced to undergo ‘re-education’ to a more Chinese way of life and thought. And the persecution of Christians has recently been stepped up. With estimates of there being over one hundred million Chinese Christians, there has been an increase in the number of house arrests of pastors, in the surveillance of Christian leaders and in the destruction of church buildings.
Two charities seeking to serve the Chinese Christian community are the Bible Society and Open Doors. You can see two videos on their work here:
- Bible Society: https://www.youtube.com/watch? UIiKeh8F4h0
- Open Doors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWpqa6IjNPE
With all this, what has been the response from people around the world?
- Chinese Citizens: Within China, when these topics are raised the usual reaction is fear of being watched, and a desire to change the subject. Those who do say more often exhort Westerners to focus on the positives that have happened in recent years (e.g. lifting millions out of poverty) rather than the negatives around lack of freedoms.
- World Community: The international community has tried a mixture of hard language and soft diplomacy to tackle the issue of Chinese human rights abuses, none of which has resulted in much change. And with China’s growing military and economic power, it will become ever harder for foreign governments to challenge China on these issues. Other countries will need Chinese support and investment far more than China needs them.
- From Us: So what should our response to these issues be? Our suggestion was five areas:
- Love: Rather than responding with aggression, our first response as Christians should always be love
- Education: Choose to learn more about China, and other repressive systems, in order to be more aware, and help bring awareness to others.
- Prayer: Pray for change; for greater freedoms to come to the Chinese people, and for the continued growth of Christianity, which could contribute to a transformed culture from within China, rather than one perceived as being imposed from the West.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958