Development of Human Rights in China

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-19 23:52
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   The people of China have been ceaselessly exploring and struggling under the strong leadership of the CPC for the past 60 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China to develop China into a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country and to realize the lofty ideal of enjoying all aspects of human rights. The face of Chinese society has undergone earthshaking changes, the fate of the Chinese people has been fundamentally changed and the cause of human rights in China has witnessed historic development.

    I.  A new era in human rights development in China was launched with the establishment of New China.

 The establishment of New China ended the history of the Chinese people under the extreme oppression of the “three big mountains” of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism, launching a new era in the development of human rights in China. 

    First, the founding of New China meant independence and liberation for the Chinese nation. The establishment of the People’s Republic of China announced to the world that the Chinese people, comprising one quarter of humanity, had finally stood up and taken control of their own fate. New China completely rescinded all the unequal treaties forced on the country by imperialist forces and all their accompanying special privileges, eradicated the imperialist political and economic forces in China and resolutely defended the country’s independence and the people’s security. At the same time, New China unswervingly pursued an independent foreign policy of peace, developed equal, mutually beneficial, peaceful and friendly relations with various countries of the world, and successfully defeated the isolation, blockade and interference imposed by hostile international forces. From then on, the Chinese nation, a peace and freedom loving people, has stood up among the nations of the world and won the dignity of a sovereign country. This marked a great turning point in the history of human rights in China.

    Delegates at the Second Session of the Tenth National People’s Congress on March 14, 2004 voting to approve the bill to revise the Constitution of the PRC. The approved amendment to the Constitution includes respect and guarantees for human rights, fully reflecting the philosophy of putting people first in contemporary China. / Photo supplied by Xinhua

    Second, a number of profound and great changes took place in society. New China completely eradicated all the institutions of the old society that exploited and oppressed the working people. A general election was held across the country on a scale unprecedented in history, a people’s democratic state power and basic political system were set up and the Constitution and laws were formulated to guarantee the rights and interests of the people, providing basic political guarantees for the right of the people to act as masters of the country. Through land reform, the feudal system of land ownership was eradicated, allowing the peasants of the country to truly become masters of the land for the first time. We carried out a socialist revolution at an appropriate pace to develop a basic socialist system that promoted economic and social development and prosperity for all the people. At the same time, the feudal system of marriage was eradicated and campaigns were carried out to ban prostitution, thus liberating Chinese women and making them equal in status to men. The system of national oppression and discrimination was eradicated, actively but cautiously carried out democratic reform in areas inhabited by ethnic minority groups and set up a system of autonomy for ethnic minority areas to provide institutional guarantees for equal rights and special rights and interests for minority ethnic groups. In the space of a few years, New China rapidly cleaned away the last remains of the dirty water left behind by the old society, giving a whole new appearance to the country and society.

    II. The Party and government have made historic strides in their understanding of human rights.

    The Party and government have made a tremendous effort to promote the human rights of the Chinese people and scored major achievements over the past 60 years. Following the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh CPC Central Committee, the Party and government worked to free their minds, seek truth from facts, reviewed conditions in the country and socialism, introduced the theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics, developed the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, greatly increased their understanding of the issue of human rights and made respecting and guaranteeing human rights an important principle for running the country and administering government affairs, greatly promoting the cause of human rights in the country.

    On November 1, 1991, the State Council Information Office of the PRC issued a white paper called, “Human Rights in China,” confirming for the first time in the form of a government document the position of human rights in the development of China’s socialist politics. This document points out that enjoying all aspects of human rights represents “a long-cherished ideal of mankind,” as well as a “noble goal” required by Chinese socialism. The paper further states that human rights represent a “long-term historical task for the Chinese people and government.” The Fifteenth National Party Congress and Sixteenth National Party Congress went a step further, incorporating “respecting and guaranteeing human rights” in the political reports of the National Party Congress, thus confirming its place in the Party’s governance and the country’s development of democracy and the legal system.

    Following the Sixteenth National Party Congress, the Party Central Committee with Comrade Hu Jintao as General Secretary introduced the major strategic concepts of the Scientific Outlook on Development that puts people first and the development of a harmonious socialist society, further confirming that respecting and guaranteeing human rights is an important principle in the Party’s governance and administration of government affairs. This greatly advanced the Party’s understanding of the issue of human rights and progress in the cause of human rights in the country. In March 2004 the Second Session of the Tenth National People’s Congress passed amendments to the Constitution, including for the first time the concept of “human rights” in the Constitution and specifying that “the state respects and guarantees human rights.” This once again raised the status of “respecting and guaranteeing human rights” from a policy regulation in Party and government documents to a principle contained in the fundamental law of the country. This at once expressed the stand of the CPC, the will of the state and the desire of the people. Following this move, respecting and guaranteeing human rights was incorporated in the Outline of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and the CPC Constitution. The report from the Seventeenth National Party Congress held in 2007 contains the phrase that we must “respect and guarantee human rights and ensure the right to equal opportunity to participate and equal opportunity to develop for all members of society in accordance with the law” and further states that we must work to ensure that all the people have access to education, benefit from their labor, have access to medial care, receive old-age pensions and have adequate housing and guarantee the right of the people to stay informed of, the right to participate in, the right to express their opinion about and the right to oversee government affairs. On December 2008, the 60th anniversary of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Hu Jintao addressed the China Society on Human Rights Studies to further elucidate the basic Chinese outlook on the issue of human rights, emphasized that China must strengthen international cooperation in human rights, work in concert with the people of all countries in the world to ensure sound progress in the cause of human rights and make our due contribution to developing a harmonious world with long-term peace and prosperity for all. This established a clear guiding principle for comprehensive progress in the cause of human rights in China during the current stage of the new period. In April 2009 the Chinese government released the first “National Human Rights Action Plan,” a comprehensive plan for advancing the cause of human rights in China over the next two years. China is the only country in the world to formulate a state action plan for human rights. It could be said that respecting and guaranteeing human rights has become an important theme in China’s efforts for national improvement, social development and external cooperation.

    III. The cause of human rights in China has made historic strides.

 Historic changes have taken place in the country since the founding of New China 60 years ago, the most profound and obvious of which is in the people. Their fate has changed, their living standards have improved and their personal dignity and value have been recognized. The human rights situation in China is now better than it has ever been in history. 

    One, China is advancing the cause of human rights in China on a path that is suitable for conditions in the country. China has a large population, a weak economic base and a low level of resources per capita. Moreover, there is no precedent to go by, so promoting and advancing the cause of human rights in China is a major issue. We put people first, give the highest priority to the people’s right to survival and right to develop, comprehensively promote human rights while promoting and balancing reform, development and stability, ensure that all members of society have equal opportunity to participate and equal opportunity to develop, promote balanced development of the political rights and economic, social and cultural rights of citizens and balanced development of individual and collective rights. Time has shown that the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a necessary and effective path for promoting and developing human rights in China.

    Two, the people’s rights to survive and develop have been guaranteed as never before. The living standards of urban and rural residents in China have improved in two historic leaps, from abject poverty to adequate food and shelter to moderate prosperity. The people’s survival and development situation has greatly improved and per capita national income reached US$3,292, putting China in the middle ranks in terms of income according to the classification of the World Bank and the average life expectancy rose from 35 years before the founding of New China to 73 in 2005, equivalent to that of a medium-level developed country. 

    Three, the personal rights and political rights of citizens have been constantly expanded and effectively guaranteed through improvement in democracy and the legal system. Ever since the founding of New China, and especially since the institution of the reform and opening up policy, the social and political lives of the people have been getting more and more democratic, improvement has been made in the systems of democratic elections, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic oversight, and constant progress has been made in institutionalizing, standardizing and defining procedures for democratic politics. Moreover, the orderly participation of citizens in political affairs has constantly expanded and the people’s rights to stay informed of, participate in, express their opinion about and oversee government affairs have been put on an institutional basis to make guarantees more effective. China now has 229 laws in effect, over 600 administrative regulations of the State Council in effect and over 7,000 local regulations in effect, comprising a fairly comprehensive legal system with the Constitution at the core. Basically all aspects of economic, political, cultural and social activities in the country are covered by the law, and all the rights and freedoms of citizens are more fully respected and guaranteed in all links of legislation, law enforcement and the judicial system.

    Four, the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens are constantly being enhanced. The government has taken a variety of measures to address the issue of unemployment and re-employment, worked hard to develop a social safety net and increased support for education, science, culture and public health programs to give real substance to the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens. In 2006, the agricultural tax and taxes on special agricultural products were rescinded nation-wide, ending a history of the government collecting such taxes stretching back over 2,600 years. The levels of the people’s economic, social and cultural activities have been considerably raised. Over 80% of the people in the country were illiterate in 1949, with less than 20% of eligible children attending primary school and only 6% attending middle school. As of 2008, nine-year compulsory education was universally available throughout the country, with the net primary enrollment ratio reaching 99.5% and the gross secondary enrollment ratio 98.5%, resulting in the illiteracy rate among the young and middle-aged dropping to 3.58%. The number of public cultural service institutions and facilities has been greatly increased and the basics of a public cultural service system covering both urban and rural areas are now in place. Chinese citizens not only enjoy extensive rights to engage in economic, social and cultural activities, but also a great amount of freedom in other areas of life such as choosing employment and designing their own lives, and their material and cultural lives are becoming richer by the day.

    IV. China actively works to advance the cause of human rights in the world.

    Ever since the country regained its legal seat in the UN in 1971, China has been supporting the efforts of the UN for universal promotion and protection of human rights, actively participating in all UN activities related to human rights, participating in the drafting of UN documents on human rights and taking advantage of various venues to explain China’s views on the issue of human rights. We have been making our own efforts and contributions to enrich the concept of human rights, improve the norms and mechanisms for human rights in the UN system and promote the realization of human rights in the world. China has maintained a positive attitude in approving and acceding to UN documents on human rights. China is an acceding country to 25 major international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, the country has taken effective measures to comply with the obligations of conventions, submitted timely reports on compliance with conventions and allowed inspection by the UN committee on compliance. China resolutely opposes the actions of some Western countries to create political opposition and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries using the issue of human rights as an excuse and ceaselessly works to safeguard the right of self-determination of developing countries and to stop large-scale human rights violations.

    With the widespread support of other developing countries, China has defeated 11 consecutive attempts by some Western countries to submit anti-China proposals to the UN Human Rights Council since the 1990s, thus preserving the country’s sovereignty and national dignity. China has issued eight white papers on the overall human rights situation in China, including “Human Rights in China,” over 30 white papers on topics related to human rights and many important articles. These have helped to fully and systematically explain to other countries China’s basic human rights situation, basic policies and basic views, promptly and authoritatively clarify the true situation in human rights issues affecting China that are of concern to other countries, express the country’s policy stands, refute the baseless accusations of hostile international forces and clear up the misunderstandings of other countries, winning extensive understanding and support from the international community. China has believed in the healthy advancement of the cause of international human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect through dialogue, cooperation and exchange. China has participated in more than 70 human rights dialogues and exchange sessions with other countries and constantly works to widen the channels of communication with other countries, thus increasing mutual understanding between China and other countries of the world. In recent years China has been exhibiting an even more positive attitude toward participation in efforts to advance the cause of international human rights, expanded and deepened exchange and cooperation with other countries in the field of human rights, strongly encouraged countries to learn from each other and study the strengths of other counties to address their own shortcomings, worked to ensure progress and development for all countries and strived to present an excellent image to the international community of a country with thriving development, democratic progress and an open civilization.

(From Qiushi in Chinese No.19 2009)


Note: Author: Deputy head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee and director of the International Communication Office of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council Information Office

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