Human rights in the People's Republic of China

Human rights in the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China

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Human rights in the People's Republic of China are a matter of dispute between the Chinese government, other countries, international NGOs, and dissidents inside the country. Organizations such as the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have accused the Chinese government of restricting the freedoms of speech, movement, and religion of Chinese citizens. The Chinese government argues for a "wider" definition of human rights, to include economic and social as well as political rights, all in relation to "national culture" and the level of development of the country.[1] In this regard, China claims that human rights are being improved.[2] China also repeated many times that its constitution specifies not only citizenship rights but also the "Four Cardinal Principles"; in legal respects the "Four Cardinal Principles" are higher than citizenship rights, meaning there was a legal basis according to the Chinese constitution when China arrested people who wanted, according to China, to overthrow these principles. Chinese people who obey these principles can enjoy all Chinese citizenship rights in principle.

However, numerous human rights organizations maintain a litany of grievances against the Chinese government. Controversial human rights issues in China include policies such as capital punishment, the one-child policy, the social status of Tibetans, and lack of protections regarding freedom of press and religion. One of the foremost areas of concern is a lack of legal rights, for want of an independent judiciary, rule of law, and due process. Another prominent area of concern is lack of labor rights, which is related to the hukou system, the absence of independent unions, and discrimination against rural workers and ethnic minorities. Yet another area of concern is the lack of religious freedom, highlighted by state clashes with Christian, Tibetan Buddhist, and Falun Gong groups. Some indigenous groups are trying to expand these freedoms; they include Human Rights in China, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), and the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG).


Legal system

The Chinese government recognizes that there are problems with the current legal system,[3] such as:

  • A lack of laws in general, not just ones to protect civil rights.
  • A lack of due process.
  • Conflicts of law.[4]

As judges are appointed by the State and the judiciary as a whole does not have its own budget,[5] this has led to corruption and the abuse of administrative power.

Civil liberties

Freedom of speech

Although the 1982 constitution guarantees freedom of speech,[6] the Chinese government often uses the subversion of state power and the protection of state secret clause to imprison those who are critical of the government.[7] The government is also heavily involved in censoring news through the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China, even though no state law explicitly gives it such authority.

The Chinese government promised to issue permits allowing people to protest in 'protest parks' during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing,[8] but a majority of the applications were withdrawn, suspended, or vetoed,[9] and the police detained some of the people who applied.[10] References to certain controversial events and political movements are blocked on the Internet and in many publications.[11] Chinese law forbids the advocacy of independence for any part of its territory, as well as public challenge to CPC domination of the government of China. An unauthorized protest during the Olympics by seven foreign activists at the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park, demanding Tibetan independence and blocking the park's entrance, was cleared[12] and the protesters deported.[13]

Foreign internet search engines including Microsoft Bing!, Yahoo!, Google Search China[14] have come under criticism for aiding in these practices, including banning the word "democracy" from its chat rooms in China. Yahoo! in particular, stated that it will not protect the privacy and confidentiality of its Chinese customers from the authorities.[15] In 2005 reporter Shi Tao was sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years for releasing an internal Communist Party document to an overseas Chinese democracy site after Yahoo! China provided his personal emails and IP addresses to the Chinese government.[16] Skype president Josh Silverman said it was "common knowledge" that TOM had "established procedures to... block instant messages containing certain words deemed offensive by the Chinese authorities."[17]

Freedom of the press

Critics also argue that the Chinese authorities failed to live up to their promises on press freedom. Freedom House ranked China "Not Free"[18] in its annual press freedom survey. PRC journalist He Qinglian says that PRC media controls rely on confidential guidance from the Communist Party propaganda department, intense monitoring, and punishment for violators rather than on pre-publication censorship.[19] ITV News reporter John Ray was arrested while covering a "Free Tibet" protest.[12][20] Foreign journalists also reported that their access to certain websites, including those of human rights organisations, was restricted.[21][22] International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge stated at the end of the 2008 Olympic Games that "The regulations might not be perfect but they are a sea-change compared to the situation before. We hope that they will continue".[23] The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement that "despite welcome progress in terms of accessibility and the number of press conferences within the Olympic facilities, the FCCC has been alarmed at the use of violence, intimidation and harassment outside. The club has confirmed more than 30 cases of reporting interference since the formal opening of the Olympic media centre on 25 July, and is checking at least 20 other reported incidents".[24]

Freedom of movement

The Communist Party came to power in the late 1940s and instigated a command economy. In 1958, Mao set up a residency permit system defining where people could work, and classified an individual as a "rural" or "urban" worker.[25] A worker seeking to move from the country to an urban area to take up non-agricultural work would have to apply through the relevant bureaucracies. The number of workers allowed to make such moves was tightly controlled.[citation needed] People who worked outside their authorized domain or geographical area would not qualify for grain rations, employer-provided housing, or health care.[26] There were controls over education, employment, marriage and so on.[25] One reason cited for instituting this system was to prevent the possible chaos caused by the predictable large-scale urbanization.[27] As a part of the one country, two systems policy proposed by Deng Xiaoping and accepted by the British and Portuguese governments, the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao retained separate border control and immigration policies with the rest of the PRC. Chinese citizens had to gain permission from the government before travelling to Hong Kong or Macau, but this requirement was abolished after the handover. Since then, restrictions imposed by the SAR governments have been the limiting factor on travel.

Urban dwellers enjoy a range of social, economic and cultural benefits while peasants, the majority of the Chinese population, are treated as second-class citizens, according to an academic at the University of Alberta.[28] The Washington Times reported in 2000 that although migrant labourers play an important part in spreading wealth in Chinese villages, they are treated "like second-class citizens by a system so discriminatory that it has been likened to apartheid."[29] Anita Chan also posits that China's household registration and temporary residence permit system has created a situation analogous to the passbook system in South Africa which was designed to regulate the supply of cheap labor.[30] In 2000, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy has alleged that people of Han descent in Tibet have a far easier time acquiring the necessary permits to live in urban areas than ethnic Tibetans do.[31]

Abolition of this policy was proposed in 11 provinces, mainly along the developed eastern coast. The law has already been changed such that migrant workers no longer face summary arrest, after a widely publicised incident in 2003, when a university-educated migrant died in Guangdong province. The Beijing law lecturer who exposed the incident said it spelt the end of the hukou system: in most smaller cities, the system has been abandoned; it has "almost lost its function" in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.[28]

Treatment of rural workers

In November 2005 Jiang Wenran, acting director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said this system was one of the most strictly enforced 'apartheid' structures in modern world history.[32] He stated "Urban dwellers enjoy a range of social, economic and cultural benefits while peasants, the majority of the Chinese population, are treated as second-class citizens".[32]

The discrimination enforced by the hukou system became particularly onerous in the 1980s after hundreds of millions of migrant laborers were forced out of state corporations and co-operatives.[33] The system classifies workers as "urban" or "rural",[26][34] and attempts by workers classified as "rural" to move to urban centers were tightly controlled by the Chinese bureaucracy, which enforced its control by denying access to essential goods and services such as grain rations, housing, and health care,[26] and by regularly closing down migrant workers' private schools.[33] The hukou system also enforced pass laws similar to those in South Africa,[30][35] with "rural" workers requiring six passes to work in provinces other than their own,[33] and periodic police raids which rounded up those without permits, placed them in detention centers, and deported them.[35] As in South Africa, the restrictions placed on the mobility of migrant workers were pervasive,[33] and transient workers were forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, and suffering abusive consequences.[30] Anita Chan furthers that China's household registration and temporary residence permit system has created a situation analogous to the passbook system in apartheid South Africa, which were designed to regulate the supply of cheap labor.[25][26][30][34][36][37]

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security justified these practices on the grounds that they assisted the police in tracking down criminals and maintaining public order, and provided demographic data for government planning and programs.[38]

Religious freedom

During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), particularly the Destruction of Four Olds campaign, religious affairs of all types were persecuted and discouraged by the Communists with many religious buildings looted and destroyed. Since then, there have been efforts to repair, reconstruct and protect historical and cultural religious sites.[39] The US department of state criticizes in its human rights report 2005 that not enough has been done to repair or restore damaged and destroyed sites.[40]

The 1982 Constitution technically guarantees its citizens the right to believe in any religion.[41] However this freedom differs from the general concept of "freedom of religion" as recognised in the West, and is subject to restrictions.

Members of the Communist Party are officially required to be atheists.[42] While many party members privately violate this rule,[43] being openly religious can limit their economic prospects. All religious groups must be registered with the government. In addition, the government continually tries to maintain control over not only religious content, but also leadership choices.[citation needed]


The government tries to maintain tight control over all religions, so the only legal Christian groups (Three-Self Patriotic Movement and Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association) are those under the Communist Party control. It has been claimed by many that the teachings in the state-approved Churches are at least monitored and sometimes modified by the Party.[citation needed]

The "official Catholic" metropolitan bishop appointed in China in 2007 to replace the deceased Fu Tieshan was not made by the Pope as is customary.[44] The Catholic Church in particular is viewed as a foreign power in a situation somewhat analogous to that in Post-Reformation England, and so the official church in China is state-controlled; accordingly this above-ground Chinese church is considered a schismatic group by the wider Church; there exists also an illegal and underground Catholic community loyal to the Pope and the wider Church.[45][original research?]

Tibetan Buddhism

The government now claims the power to ensure that no new 'living Buddha' can be identified: the State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a 14-part regulation to limit the influence of the Dalai Lama. It declared that after 1 September 2007, "[no] living Buddha [may be reincarnated] without government approval, since Qing dynasty, when the live Buddha system was established.".[46] When the Dalai Lama announced in May 1995 that a search inside Tibet had identified the eleventh reincarnation of the Panchen Lama who died in 1989, Beijing initiated its own search under the supervision of a senior Politburo member. The boy chosen by the Dalai Lama, and the abbot who helped with the choice, both vanished.[46] The child is believed to have spent the years since then under house arrest; all calls for visitation or for his release have been ignored. The Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama is branded a fake by loyalists.[47] Examples of the political controls exercised are:[48]

  • quotas on the number of monks to reduce the spiritual population
  • forced denunciation of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader
  • unapproved monks' expulsion from monasteries
  • forced recitation of patriotic scripts supporting China
  • Restriction of religious study before age 18.

Monks celebrating the reception of the US Congressional Gold Medal by the Dalai Lama have been detained;[49] Drepung, once a large temple for over 10,000 monks, is now home to only 600; Beijing now restricts total membership in any monastery to 700.[48]

Falun Gong

On 20 July 1999, the government banned Falun Gong and all 'heterodox religions', and began a nationwide crackdown of the popular new religious movement[50] following a demonstration by 10,000 practitioners outside the leadership enclave at Zhongnanhai on 25 April.[51] Protests in Beijing were frequent for the first few years following the 1999 edict, though these protests have largely been eradicated.[52] Practitioners have occasionally hacked into state television channels to broadcast pro-Falun Gong materials. Outside of mainland China, practitioners are active in appealing to the governments, media, and people of their respective countries about the situation in China.

According to Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ian Denis Johnson, the government mobilized every aspect of society, including the media apparatus, police force, army, education system, families and workplaces, against Falun Gong.[52] An extra-constitutional body, the "6–10 Office" was created to do what Forbes describes as "[overseeing] the terror campaign."[53] The campaign was driven by large-scale propaganda through television, newspaper, radio and internet.[54] Human Rights Watch noted that families and workplaces were urged to cooperate with the government, while practitioners themselves were subject to various coercive measures to have them recant their beliefs.[55] Amnesty International raised particular concerns over reports of torture, illegal imprisonment including forced labor, and psychiatric abuses.[56][57]

In March 2006, Falun Gong and The Epoch Times said that the Chinese government and its agencies, including the People's Liberation Army, were conducting "widespread and systematic organ harvesting of living practitioners" specifically at the Sujiatun Thrombosis Hospital in Shenyang according to two eye-witness accounts that practitioners detained in the hospital's basement were being tissue-typed, and killed to order.[58] In July 2006, David Kilgour and David Matas, sponsored by Falun Gong to investigate the allegations, published a report which they admitted the evidence was circumstantial, but which taken together supported the allegations that large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners were victims of systematic organ harvesting whilst still alive.[59]

The Chinese government categorically denied any mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners, and a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman denounced the organ harvesting allegations as "absurd lies concocted by the Falun Gong cult followers".[60] Dissident Harry Wu said the two Epoch Times witnesses were "not reliable and most probably they had fabricated the story"; he rejected the totality of the allegations after sending in investigators.[61] A Congressional Research Service said that there was "insufficient evidence to support this specific allegation," without elaboration.[62] David Ownby, a noted expert on Falun Gong, said "Organ harvesting is happening in China, but I see no evidence proving it is aimed particularly at Falun Gong practitioners."[63] Glen McGregor of the Ottawa Citizen said "Depending on who you believe, the Kilgour-Matas report is either compelling evidence that proves the claims about Falun Gong... or a collection of conjecture and inductive reasoning that fails to support its own conclusions".[64]

Political freedom

The PRC is known for its intolerance of organized dissent towards the government. Dissident groups are routinely arrested and imprisoned, often for long periods of time and without trial. Incidents of torture, forced confessions and forced labour are widely reported (see #Torture, below). Freedom of assembly and association is extremely limited. The most recent mass movement for political freedom was crushed in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the estimated death toll of which ranges from about 200 to 10,000 depending on sources.[65][66]

One of the most famous dissidents is Zhang Zhixin, who is known for standing up against the ultra-left.[67] In October 2008, the government denounced the European Parliament's decision to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Hu Jia, on grounds that it was "gross interference in China's domestic affairs" to give such an award to a "jailed criminal.. in disregard of our repeated representations."[68]

On 8 December 2008, two days before the release of Charter 08, Liu Xiaobo was arrested. He along with three hundred and two other Chinese citizens, signed Charter 08, a manifesto released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 2009), written in the style of the Czechoslovakian Charter 77 calling for greater freedom of expression, human rights, and for free elections.[6] As of May 2009, the Charter has collected over 9,000 signatures from Chinese of various walks of life.

Although the Chinese government does not interfere with Chinese people's privacy as much as it used to,[69] it still deems it necessary to keep tabs on what people say in public. Internet forums are strictly monitored, as is international postal mail (this is sometimes inexplicably "delayed" or simply "disappears") and e-mail.[70]

Local officials are chosen by election, and though non-Communist Party candidates are allowed to stand, those with dissident views can face arbitrary exclusion from the ballot, interference with campaigning, and even detention.[71]

One-child policy

Government sign stating: "For a prosperous, powerful nation and a happy family, please use birth planning."

China's birth control policy, known widely as the one-child policy, was implemented in 1979 by the Chinese government to alleviate the overpopulation problem. Having more than one child is illegal and punishable by fines. Voice of America cites critics who argue that it contributes to forced abortions, human rights violations, female infanticide, abandonment and sex-selective abortions, believed to be relatively commonplace in some areas of the country.[72] This is thought to have been a significant contribution to the gender imbalance in mainland China, where there is a 118 to 100 ratio of male to female children reported.[73][74][75] Forced abortions and sterilizations have also been reported.[76][77]

It is also argued that the one-child policy is not effective enough to justify its costs, and that the dramatic decrease in Chinese fertility started before the program began in 1979 for unrelated factors. The policy seems to have had little impact on rural areas (home to about 80% of the population), where birth rates never dropped below 2.5 children per female.[78] Nevertheless, the Chinese government and others estimate that at least 250 million births have been prevented by the policy.[79]

In 2002, the laws related to the One-child policy were amended to allow ethnic minorities and Chinese living in rural areas to have more than one child[citation needed]. The policy was generally not enforced in those areas of the country even before this. The policy has been relaxed in urban areas to allow people who have single children to have two children.[80]

Capital punishment

China executes more people each year than the rest of the world combined.[81] According to the United Nations Secretary-General, between 1994 and 1999 China was ranked seventh in executions per capita, behind Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Sierra Leone, Kyrgyzstan, and Jordan.[82] Amnesty International claims that real figures are much higher than official ones, stating that in China the statistics are considered State secrets.

Figures from 2006 and 2007 are reported to have been 1,010 and 470 executions, respectively.[83][84][85] In January 2007, China's state media announced that all death penalty cases will be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court. Since 1983, China's highest court did not review all cases. This marks a return to China's pre-1983 policy.[86] In light of these changes, figures from 2007 display a substantial reduction in executions with only 470 reported executions compared with figures from previous years. Amnesty International analysts argue that this drop is only temporary since the figure includes only confirmed executions and are likely to be much higher.[87] As of 2008, China is still the country with the highest number of executions. 1,718 people have been executed in 2008 out of 2,390 worldwide.[88]

A total of 68 crimes are punishable by death; capital offenses include non-violent, white-collar crimes such as embezzlement and tax fraud. Execution methods include lethal injections and shooting.[88] The People's Armed Police carries out the executions, usually at 10 am.[89]


Although China outlawed torture in 1996, human rights groups say brutality and degradation are common in Chinese detention centres.

Also, China's definition of illegal torture – that it leaves physical marks – is so narrow that interrogators can employ a wide range of methods that contravene UN standards. Suspects are manacled in contorted positions, deprived of sleep and subjected to psychological torture.[90]

In 2003 the Supreme People’s Procuratorate reported that 'forced confessions' had led to the deaths of 460 people and serious injuries for 117 others.[91]

In 2005 Manfred Nowak visited as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. After spending two weeks there, he observed that it was "on the decline, but still widespread." He also complained of Chinese officials interfering with his research, including intimidating people he sought to interview.[92]

During the Chongqing gang trials in 2009–2010, details were revealed of extensive and persistent torture of suspects held in police custody. Manifestations include regular beatings, sleep deprivation and being placed in or forced to hold agonising positions.[93]

In May 2010, new regulations were issued that nullified evidence gathered through violence or intimidation. The move came after a public outcry following the revelation that a farmer, convicted for murder based on his confession under torture, was in fact innocent. The case came to light only when his supposed victim turned up alive and the defendant had spent 10 years in prison.[94] International human rights groups gave the change a cautious welcome.[91]

Political abuse of psychiatry

In 2002, Human Rights Watch published the book Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and its Origins in the Mao Era written by Robin Munro and based on the documents obtained by him.[95][96] The British researcher Robin Munro, a sinologist who was writing his dissertation in London after a long sojourn in China, had travelled to China several times to survey libraries in provincial towns and had gathered a large amount of literature which bore the stamp ‘secret’ but at the same time was openly available.[97]:242 This literature included even historical analyses going back to the days of the Cultural Revolution and concerned articles and reports on the number of people who were taken to mental hospitals because they complained of a series of issues.[97]:242 It was found, according to Munro, that the involuntary confinement of religious groups, political dissidents, and whistleblowers had a lengthy history in China.[98] The abuse had begun in the 1950s and 1960s, and had grown extremely throughout the Cultural Revolution.[97]:242 During the period of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, it achieved its apogee, then under the reign of Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four, which established a very repressive and harsh regime.[98] No deviance or opposition in thought or in practice was tolerated.[98]

The documents told of a massive abuse of psychiatry for political purposes during the leadership of Mao Zedong, during which millions of people had been declared mentally sick.[97]:242 In the 1980s, according to the official documents, there was political connotation to fifteen percent of all forensic psychiatric cases.[97]:242 In the early 1990s, the numbers had dropped to five percent, but with beginning of the campaign against Falun Gong, the percentage had again increased quite rapidly.[97]:242

Chinese official psychiatric literature testifies distinctly that the Communist Party's notion of ‘political dangerousness’ was long since institutionally engrafted in the diagnostic armory of China's psychiatry and included in the main concept of psychiatric dangerousness.[95]:4

The People’s Republic of China is the only country which appears to abuse psychiatry for political purposes in a systematic way, and despite international criticism, this seems to be continuing.[99] Political abuse of psychiatry in the People’s Republic of China is high on the agenda and has produced recurring disputes in the international psychiatric community.[99] The abuses there appear to be even more widespread than in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s and involve the incarceration of ‘petitioners’, human rights workers, trade union activists, followers of the Falun Gong movement, and people complaining against injustices by local authorities.[99]

It also seemed that, China had hardly known high security forensic institutions until 1989.[97]:243 However, since then, the Chinese authorities have constructed the entire network of special forensic mental hospitals called Ankang which in Chinese is for ‘Peace and Health.’[97]:243 By that time, China had had 20 Ankang institutions with the staff employed by the Ministry of State Security.[97]:243 The psychiatrists who worked there were wearing uniforms under their white coats.[97]:243

The political abuse of psychiatry in China seems to take place only in the institutions under the authority of the police and the Ministry of State Security but not in those belonging to other governmental sectors.[97]:243 Psychiatric care in China falls into four sectors that hardly connect up with each other.[97]:243 These are Ankang institutions of the Ministry of State Security; those belonging to the police; those that fall under the authority of the Ministry of Social Affairs; those belonging to the Ministry of Health.[97]:243 Both the sectors belonging to the police and the Ministry of State Security are the closed sectors, and, consequently, information hardly ever leaks out.[97]:243 In the hospitals belonging to the Ministry of Health, psychiatrists do not contact with the Ankang institutions and, actually, had no idea of what occurred there, and could, thereby, sincerely state that they were not informed of political abuse of psychiatry in China.[97]:243

In China, the structure of forensic psychiatry was to a great extent identical to that in the USSR.[97]:243 On its own, it is not so strange, since psychiatrists of the Moscow Serbsky Institute visited Beijing in 1957 to help their Chinese ‘brethren’, the same psychiatrists who promoted the system of political abuse of psychiatry in their own USSR.[97]:243 As a consequence, diagnostics were not much different than in the Soviet Union.[97]:244 The only difference was that the Soviets preferred ‘sluggish schizophrenia’ as a diagnosis, and the Chinese generally cleaved to the diagnosis ‘paranoia’ or ‘paranoid schizophrenia’.[97]:244 However, the results were the same: long hospitalization in a mental hospital, involuntary treatment with neuroleptics, torture, abuse, all aimed at breaking the victim’s will.[97]:244

The World Psychiatric Association (WPA) attempted to confine the problem by presenting it as Falun Gong issue and, at the same time, make the impression that the members of the movement were likely not mentally sound, that it was a sect which likely brainwashed its members, etc.[97]:245 There was even a diagnosis of ‘qigong syndrome’ which was used reflecting on the exercises practiced by Falung Gong.[97]:245 It was the unfair game aiming to avoid the political abuse of psychiatry from dominating the WPA agenda.[97]:245

In August 2002, the General Assembly was to take place during the next WPA World Congress in Yokohama.[97]:247 The issue of Chinese political abuse of psychiatry had been placed as one of the final items on the agenda of the General Assembly.[97]:251 When the issue was broached during the General Assembly, the exact nature of compromise came to light.[97]:252 In order to investigate the political abuse of psychiatry, the WPA would send an investigative mission to China.[97]:252 The visit was projected for the spring of 2003 in order to assure that one could present a report during the annual meeting of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists in June/July of that year and the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May of the same year.[97]:252 After the 2002 World Congress, the WPA Executive Committee’s half-hearted attitude in Yokohama came to light: it was an omen of a longstanding policy of diversion and postponement.[97]:252 The 2003 investigative mission never took place, and when finally a visit to China did take place, this visit was more of scientific exchange.[97]:252 In the meantime, the political abuse of psychiatry persisted unabatedly, nevertheless the WPA did not seem to care.[97]:252

Ethnic minorities

There are 55 recognized ethnic minorities in China. Article 4 of the Chinese constitution states "All nationalities in the People's Republic of China are equal", and the government argues that it has made efforts to improve ethnic education and increased ethnic representation in local government.

Some policies cause reverse racism, where Han Chinese or even ethnic minorities from other regions are treated as second-class citizens in the ethnic region.[100][101] In the same line, there are wide-ranging preferential policies (i.e. affirmative actions) in place to promote social and economic developments for ethnic minorities, including preferential employments, political appointments, and business loans.[102] Universities typically have quota reserved for ethnic minorities despite having lower admission test scores.[103] Ethnic minorities are also exempt from the one-child policy which is aimed toward Han Chinese.

Stern punishments towards independence-seeking demonstrators, rioters, or terrorists[104] have led to mistreatment of the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities in Western China. The United States in 2007 refused to help repatriate five Chinese Uyghur Guantanamo Bay detainees because of the "past treatment of the Uigur minority".[105] On the other hand, China has many border regions with large minority populations, including Guangxi with 16 million Zhuang people, and other concentrated Muslim populations such as the Hui people, with some even poorer than the Uyghurs, such as the Dongxiang, Bonan, and the Salar, among whom there have been "no reports of separatism, violence, or even Islamic radicalism". The fellow Muslim Kazakhs, who live with the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang area under similar laws and conditions, have not organized rebellions against the state or aligned themselves with Kazakhstan.[106]


The human rights of Tibetans has been a concern since the founding of the PRC. Tibetans who opposed the diversion of irrigation water by Chinese authorities to the China Gold International Resources mining operations were detained, tortured and murdered.[107][107] Judicial mutilation against Tibetans by the Dalai Lama's government, and the serfdom controversy have been cited by the PRC as reasons to interfere for the welfare of Tibetans.[108] Conflicting reports about Tibetan human rights have evolved since then. The PRC claims a Tibetan cultural revival since the 1950s, while the Dalai Lama says "whether intentionally or unintentionally, somewhere cultural genocide is taking place".[109]

Following the Chinese economic reform, businesspeople from other parts of China have traveled to Tibet to do business, although most do not stay in region. The New York Times has cited this ethnic diversity in Tibet as a cause of "ethnic tensions". It has also criticized China's promotion of home ownership among nomadic Tibetans.[110] Western politicians often level the charge that the Tibetan languages are at risk of extinction in Tibet.[111] However, academics point out that for the vast majority of Tibetans, who live in rural areas, the Chinese language is merely introduced as a second language in secondary.[112]

Economic and property rights

According to the Der Spiegel magazine, despite the National People's Congress enacting a law in 2007 to protect private property with the exception of land, local Chinese authorities have used brutal means to expropriate property, in a bid to profit from the construction boom.[113]

HIV/AIDS and rights on sexuality

Other human rights issues

Worker's rights and privacy are other contentious human rights issues in China. There have been several reports of core International Labor Organization conventions being denied to workers. One such report was released by the International Labor Rights Fund in October 2006 documenting minimum wage violations, long work hours, and inappropriate actions towards workers by management.[114] Workers cannot form their own unions in the workplace, only being able to join State-sanctioned ones. The extent to which these organizations can fight for the rights of Chinese workers is disputed.[70]

The issue of refugees from North Korea is a recurring one. It is official policy to repatriate them to North Korea, but the policy is not evenly enforced and a considerable number of them stay in the People's Republic (some move on to other countries). Though it is in contravention of international law to deport political refugees, as illegal immigrants their situation is precarious. Their rights are not always protected.[115] Some of them are tricked into marriage or prostitution.[116]

African students in China have complained about their treatment in China, that was largely ignored until 1988-9, when "students rose up in protest against what they called 'Chinese apartheid'".[117] African officials took notice of the issue, and the Organization of African Unity issued an official protest. The organization's chairman, Mali's president Moussa Traoré, went on a fact-finding mission to China.[117] According to a Guardian 1989 Third World Report titled "Chinese apartheid" threatens links with Africa, these practices could threaten Peking's entire relationship with the continent."[118]

Counterargument by the PRC government

The Government of the People's Republic of China has argued that idea of "Asian values"[119] means that the "welfare" of the collective should always be put ahead of the rights of any individual whenever conflicts between these arise. It argues that there is a responsibility of the government to create a "harmonious society",[120] and that in some cases it is necessary to persuade or force individuals to make sacrifices in their rights for the wider needs of society. It argues that a strong and stable authority is required in order to regulate the potentially conflicting interests of the public and enforce a compromise and that Governments with curtailed authority would fail to take on such a responsibility.

The Chinese government points towards an alleged rapid social deterioration in Western societies, claiming that there has been an increase in geographic, religious and racial segregation; rising crime rates; family breakdown; industrial action; vandalism; and political extremism within Western societies. They believe these are a direct result of an excess of individual freedom, saying that “Too much freedom is dangerous.”[121] China argues that these actions in Western Nations are all violations of human rights. China believes that these should be taken into account when assessing a country's human right records. Furthermore, the government criticizes the United States, which publishes human rights reports annually, by insisting that the United States has also caused human rights abuses such as the invasion of Iraq.[122]

The PRC government also argues that the notion of human rights should include economic standards of living and measures of health and economic prosperity.[1] On cultural grounds they argue that as the economic, cultural and political situations differ substantially between countries, a universal 'one-size-fits-all' definition of human rights should not apply internationally.


In March 2003, an amendment was made to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, stating "The State respects and preserves human rights."[123] In addition, China was dropped from a list of top 10 human rights violators in the annual human rights report released by the U.S. State Department in 2008, while the report indicated that there were still widespread problems in China.[124]

Since 1988, the Chinese government began direct village elections to help maintain social and political order whilst facing rapid economic change. Elections now occur in "about 650,000 villages across China, reaching 75% of the nation's 1.3 billion people," according to the Carter Center.[125] In 2008, Shenzhen –which enjoys the highest per capita GDP in China– was selected for experimentation, and over 70% of the government officials on the district level are to be directly elected.[126] However, in keeping with Communist Party philosophy, candidates must be selected from a pre-approved list.[127]

See also

Further reading

  • Cheng, Lucie, Rossett, Arthur and Woo, Lucie, East Asian Law: Universal Norms and Local Cultures, RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, ISBN 0-415-29735-4
  • Edwards, Catherine, China's Abuses Ignored for Profit, Insight on the News, Vol. 15, 20 December 1999.
  • Foot, Rosemary, Rights beyond Borders: The Global Community and the Struggle over Human Rights in China, Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-198-29776-9
  • Jones, Carol A.G., Capitalism, Globalization and Rule of Law: An Alternative Trajectory of Legal Change in China, Social and Legal Studies, vol. 3 (1994) pp. 195–220
  • Klotz, Audie, Norms in International Relations: The Struggle against Apartheid, Cornell University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-801-43106-9
  • Knight, J. and Song, L., The Rural-Urban Divide: Economic Disparities and Interactions in China, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-198-29330-5
  • Martin III, Matthew D., "The Dysfunctional Progeny of Eugenics: Autonomy Gone AWOL", Cardozo Journal of International Law, Vol. 15, No. 2, Fall 2007, pp. 371–421, ISSN 1069-3181
  • Seymour, James, Human Rights in Chinese Foreign Relations, in, Kim, Samuel S., China and the World: Chinese Foreign Policy Faces the New Millennium Westview Press, 1984. ISBN 0-813-33414-4
  • Sitaraman, Srini, Explaining China's Continued Resistance Towards Human Rights Norms: A Historical Legal Analysis, ACDIS Occasional Paper, Program in Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security, University of Illinois, June 2008.
  • Svensson, Marina, The Chinese Debate on Asian Values and Human Rights: Some Reflections on Relativism, Nationalism and Orientalism, in Brun, Ole. Human Rights and Asian Values: Contesting National Identities and Cultural Representations in Asia, Ole Bruun, Michael Jacobsen; Curzon, 2000, ISBN 0-700-71212-7
  • Wang, Fei-Ling, Organizing through Division and Exclusion: China's Hukou System, Stanford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-804-75039-4
  • Zweig, David, Freeing China's Farmers: Rural Restructuring in the Reform Era, M. E. Sharpe, 1997, ISBN 1-563-24838-7
  • The silent majority; China. (Life in a Chinese village), The Economist, April 2005


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