Essay paper on Spreading Human Rights Ideal in a Cultural Diverse World

The idea of the universal human rights goes back to the 17-18th centuries and first appeared in the works of the Enlightenment philosophers of that time. Kant, Locke, Rousseau and other great thinkers of their time developed and grounded the basic principles of human rights and gave the soil for the further development of the institution of human rights.

They put the interest of the individual on the first place and proposed society development that would be a well-organized and just mechanism for the regulation of social relationships keeping to the interest of the individual and protecting his freedoms. The main source that gave the soil for the appearance of the institution of human rights was morality, ethics and religion of the existing societies of that time. The sources of human rights mainly lay in the Christian moral of humanism and love. The principles of equality, love, and other important social virtues are the basis of Bible, and the whole Christian teaching.

To the main part this is one of the most important differences between Western and Chinese culture, ethics, and if to be more specific is one of the main differences on views about human rights. The whole Chinese society showed a great level of static and no real changes in the way of life and traditions of the society that already exists for five thousands years are a good proof of it. The  moral teaching which was put in the basis of future social transformations and changes, is known to have a very slow rate of change ,was different from European.

Confucianism appeared in the 4th century BC and with time passed it still remains the ideology of Chinese society and nowadays.

It is based on the concepts of rationalism, idealism, wisdom and justice. It demands emotions suppressing, submitting them to the mind. A special place is given to fulfilling of responsibilities and duties. It demands faithfulness, devoutness to the family, clan, country, to the head of the country and of course proposes directed self development and study. According to Confucius a noble man cares about duty, a mean one cares about profit. The concept of humanism plays also one of important roles. But it’s different from Christian humanism concept of apologizing the enemies. It states Pay good for good, and pay justice for offence. Another concept is respect to the older people. It’s a very important part of every man of Chinese society, where everyone has to care about his parents, help them, be respectful and  thankful to them, and parents duty is to bring up kids and do their best to give them education.

The concept of mutual dependence and mutual responsibility that is similar to a lot of other eastern societies is the main factor of undeveloped individualism and sense of self conscience in the Chinese society. The conservatism and strict obedience to traditions and older generation caused as I’ve mentioned before, the static which is very common in eastern societies, while western society has been always in dynamics and in analysis and in  seeking for the improvement of the social life. The concepts of Confucianism even though that this teaching proclaimed humanism and rationalism, as well as self education and self development, didn’t cause the development of the idea of an individual, and his place in society.  It’s obviously seen that the individualism is an achievement of the Western philosophy, ethics and reasoning which came into practice since the age of Renaissance when the ideas of humanism helped to determine the role of the individual and put the interests of individual on the main place in society.  It later gave a needed soil for the development of the democratic ideas which later became an integral part of modern society values, priorities, and source for human rights.

In Chinese culture the role of the God is taken by the Heavens, and in general Confucius didn’t state anything about monotheism, as it’s in Christianity and Islam, neither he did about personalization of super being that has to take the role of God. Actually God’s place is taken by the nature and appeals the society to seek the unity with nature and learn life from nature.

Basically Chinese philosophy gives the essential place to the concepts of   universal truths and morality. But even Chinese philosophers as Woo (1980) marked out that the concept of human rights commonly accepted in the West   has never been widely accepted, justified and spread in China because of its origins and sources in metaphysical concepts that had been strange to traditional Chinese culture. This is one of the arguments that can be used to establish the reasons of the difference in understanding of human rights. But still Chinese ethics has enough of sources that coin a lot of metaphysics which are really closed to the modern human rights concepts, they didn’t influence the future appearance and establishment of human rights ideas and other ideas of humanism.(But however when we refer to the Chinese customs and morality, we can, as in the case of the Western cultures and societies, find both elements that have the basics of human rights conception and elements of conception that contradict it. They include the elements of   Confucian principle of benevolence as the basics of managing relationships between individual personalities, the ethics of benevolent rule of the ruler who should serve as example of the execusion and obedience to this principle, the understanding of the role of consultation by the ruler, the idea of the equality of all individuals in terms of the opportunities for moral development and growth, the conception of a human as the noblest creation of nature which is similar to humanism and western ethics.

Elements of the modern Chinese tradition that contradict and oppose the modern view of human rights include tyranny, despotism, unlimited power of the emperor considered to be the Son of Heaven, conservatism of the ruling class originated from the patriarchal society of China, vivid differences in complicated hierarchy of Chinese society that involve absolute authority and subordination. The main part was given to the punishments and suppressing of any individual’s revolt against existing norm, because it was seen as a real damage towards the existing political system and state.

The roots of the difference are in the concept of accepting tyranny. Chinese people have special type of world out-look, based not only on Confucianism, but on the base of local religions, and myths. The aspiration to spiritual and moral perfect is combined with idolization of power, giving some superhuman traits to the rulers. The concept of reservation of society from other cultures, as well as undeveloped relationships between different social classes couldn’t course the appearance of any kind of democratic ideas and human rights, even if such could appear the was no opportunity for their spread and realization.

Moreover a new leading ideology in China on the hand with Confucianism brought new ideas about human rights. A

Аnd it’s of course the ideology of communism: Marxism-Leninism mixed with the thoughts of Mao. Talking about the development of Chinese society it’s quite clear now why China accepted dictatorship again, because the whole country had never experienced any other regime and the democratic regime of Gominung government failed.

As John Copper et al. (1985) says:

(In China) rights are not endowed by nature but depend on class status and are granted by leaders whose interpretation of society’s interest determines what rights can be given at any specific time and to whom. Rights given today can be taken away tomorrow in accordance with changing circumstances and a changing party line. (p.5)

Most of Chinese modern philosophers agree to have an opposite view via human rights, explaining that there are no universal human rights and that human rights appearance is the outcome of social and historical factors of the definite society. Giving an example, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of Republic of China, stated that the rights of people are not from nature, but from the historical development. In his view, the trend of government was from theocracy to monarchy. At his time, the trend was towards democracy. Regardless of obstacles, democracy would be long lasting (cited in Chou, 1979, p.415)

Carl Marx in his works mentioned that freedom is a realized need and it’s appropriate to talk about it only when the society reaches some exact level of development. The philosophy and ethics which was established to give the ground and justify the communist dictatorship in USSR, Eastern Europe countries, and Red Asia stated on the rejection of everything that came form the West, because it of its  capitalist ideas which were not appropriate for socialist society. That’s why many historians mark that it was impossible to accept the idea of the modern human rights looking on the question from this angle. Later this fanatism turned in to absurd of the Chinese Cultural revolution.

One of the main factors that prevent Chinese ethics from the realization of human rights is its double standard. The explanation of the Chinese double standard could be seen in its unique geographical characteristic. North china is separated by mountains and deserts from Russia and central Asian countries. Mountains in the southern China, as well as oceans on the east and south make it difficult to access too. As a result, the Chinese civilization was in natural isolation from the rest of well-developed civilizations as Ancient Greece and Rome. China still was the most developed nation in Asia for three thousand years period. All that time China regarded itself as the Middle Kingdom, placing itself on the central place in the world, while considering the rest of the nations surrounding it to be Barbarians.

Not that many of Chinese philosophers of ancient times questioned Middle Kingdom’s status. Chung Tzu was one of them he asked: Is not the Middle Kingdom, in comparison with what lies within the area bounded by the four seas, like a small seed in a granary?. Among with him another ancient thinker suggests that China is one continent of Earth’s nine. This outlook led the majority of Chinese people to consider them to be the chosen, enlightened and cultured nation to comparison to the rest of the world.

Since the Ching age in the history of the country, the Chinese people have been using term, devils, to label strangers.

The policy of a love-hatred relationship towards the foreigners, mainly to Europeans lately developed into the new ethnocentricism. Even though that since the 17-18 century the difference in technological and economical development between west and chine was considerable, Chinese insisted on their superiority and dominance. They still used any arguments they could find to justify their advanced level and practiced self-moralizing on the hand with confident nationalism.

The classification of countries by their economical development into first, second and third world used by China in its foreign policy is a vivid example of self-moralizing. China is close to the West and Japan in economical growth.

Methods to still somehow show the glory of Middle Kingdom is by moral impact. China classifies nations by three proposed types. Naming the first and the second world fuling and dominant, they call the third world dependent and oppressed countries. China determines itself as a third world country to morally fight for its rights and rights of other 3rd world countries. Looking on the problem through this angle China and other 3rd world countries are shown from the ethical side but the rest of the world is thought to be immoral.

The human rights issue, is between classic examples of it. The Government of PCR is usual in rejecting the documents that guarantee human rights to Chinese nation because so issues are breaking the sovereignty of the country and contradict the principles of its existence . Chinese government raises the problem of human rights in South Africa and blames the issues of racism that take place over there, but at the same time it doesn’t say anything about the position of minorities living in the most far way parts of China and about the conditions of prisoners.

If to refer to international documents, sovereignty of the China and it’s legislature, there would be more examples found of contradictions in proclamations and double standard of the Chinese society.  Li Ho-man a Chinese legal advisor of 1980th stated: the treaties signed by the Chinese government are higher than the domestic laws, regardless of whether the laws were established before or after the agreement of the international treaties. If there are conflicts between international treaties and domestic laws, the international treaties must be followed. But even though they proclaim this issue, the Chinese authorities commented the decision of Japanese Supreme Court to return to Nationalist government the property of Kwong Wai Lui in 1987 when the Japanese Supreme Court decided to return the property of Kwong Wai Lui to the Nationalist government, in China Legal Daily that any country must not use domestic laws as an excuse to disregard the obligation derived from international laws. (Wang, and Cheung, 1990)

The interesting fact is that the Chinese Communist government has the double standard of double standard. The Chinese officials often criticize the politics  of other nations of the second and first world, especially the politics of the U.S., as practicing а double standard, but Chinese authorities had never confessed that they use the practice of double standard by themselves.

The argument about double standard of American foreign politics was commented by Jiang Zemin, the head of the Chinese Communist Party, while interviewed by U.S. News:

The U.S. repeatedly talks about democracy, freedom and human rights, but Chinese find it very difficult to understand why the U.S. sent troops to Panama…another example is the ethnic riots in Tibet. We sent our troops to put an end to the riot, and suddenly there was a big uproar and a lot of criticism that China had violated human rights. But recently when there were riots between two ethnic groups in Azerbaijan and Armenia in the U.S.S.R., and the Soviet Union sent troops to put an end to riot, the U.S. expressed its understanding about this. (Zuckerman, 1990, p.50).

For the majority of democratic countries it’s not easy to understand the reasons of China’s support of Palestinian terrorist, trade of missiles to the countries that are thought to have a danger to the world community as Iran.  The arguments of the Chinese officials are very simple, marking that Iran is a third world country, that is struggling against world imperialism and the USA in particularity, as well as Palestinians who fight against Israel, also financed by the US. The origins of the double standard foreign policy should be found in Chinese life long politics of isolation, nationalist and classification of nations of devils or Barbarians as it had been used to be in Middle ages.

Referring to the issue with human rights violations in Chinese society, it’s understood that double standard politics is also a good argument to explain it. Chinese officials  justify the violations occur in their country, by stating that Chinese laws and Constitution give rights to the people of China, not to the enemies of the country who would probably spread counterrevolutionary ideas of the West.

But even though that Chinese society with it’s unique culture is still very conservative and closed for foreigners, it has got considerable changes. And speaking about the changes made it’s impossible to make a direct line of the ground and outcome of the changes that China felt during last two centuries.

The problem of globalization and integration into the world community is difficult to be described just from the one side. Because the whole process deals with a lot of issues that combined put a stamp of change on the society.

The main reason of that are issues of globalization and scientific progress.

For a long period of time China was isolated from the rest of the world by understandable reasons. The main one is its geographic situation that coursed the way of its development. Later in the middle ages Chinese empire isolated itself from the rest of the world, and this policy began to change only in at the end of the 17th century.  Different and not understood by Europeans, the country was of the great interest to them. Even thought that Chinese in the majority didn’t adopt Christianity and elements of the European culture immediately, they were looked on as on the nation of the great future potential.

Beginning with 19th century, the time of constant presence of Europeans in China, Chinese society accepted new changes. The conception of traditions superiority was changing adjusting to time. Basically financial difficulties and appeared opportunity to change life for better were the reasons why Chinese conservative society agreed to change something. It’s well known concept of vacuum, when something is in static, isolated stage will attempt to change this condition and reach somehow kind of equilibrium with surrounding. Because of the mutual unity of culture, morality, out look, economics and the political system in whole, the influence on of the aspects of social life, will influence and direct the future destiny of the whole country.


This concept is thought to be of the main reasons why for so long Chinese authorities suppressed everyone unsatisfied with what was going on in the country. Only cultural and political statics could guarantee the safety of the country regime.

Even though the dictatorship in China and the strength of the Communist party hadn’t lost their influence and control over the society, the country couldn’t couple with the difficulties, it faced in the second half of the twentieth century. For a long time an undeveloped third world country, with an extremely high rate of poverty, illiteracy and low level of industrialization it didn’t have that many opportunities and funds as other countries from the communist camp to support the policy of isolationism and iron curtain. Overpopulation and outcomes of Mao’s reforms ruined the country and could cause unpredictable social tragedy and catastrophe.

That’s why the government had to make concessions. And once opened China for foreign trade cooperation they passively started the gradual chain of changes in social, political and economical life of the whole society.

The opportunities of market relations caused the changes in the consciousness of the majority of the nation. People got more freedom of work opportunities which hadn’t existed before and the opportunity to change their social status because of their financial position.

Also the development of market relations develops the sense of property that before was thought to be the main outcome and remain of capitalism and was a subject of struggle with and its abolishment.

The communist party having allowed these freedoms lost the right for the total control of goods and money exchange in the country, allowing new investments and money streams in China.

As soon as China agreed to open from isolation and become the partner of the world community it got new duties, concerning the protection of human rights in the country. China’s authorities had to sign the international documents that guarantee the basic integral freedoms and rights to its citizens.

It’s not a surprise that most of the issues stated in those documents are broken, and it’s a well known fact.

But still the attempts to reform the Chinese society are common not only to the People Republic of China, but also to Taiwan and Hong Kong. The experience of these two originally Chinese states is more successful then of China, first of all because of their small area. And the fact that Hong Kong is a part of modern China already means a lot, because the experience it got while being under UK’s protection have been preserved and caused a big influence on spreading new ideas of democracy and human rights.


Once the culture that rejected innovations and skeptical, now Chinese are a bright example of how globalization changes the society. Eastern China is a good example of developing Asian country with stable economics and stable economic growth, one of the highest in their region. The great potential of the nation that was restricted by customs, isolation, class differences and traditions begin to dramatically disappear, gaining more and more features of Western civilization. Chinese pragmatism, practicism and flexibility are the factors of such changes.

Demands of the modern world had changed even Chinese attitude towards the family, especially towards family planning. Once encouraged in Mao’s times big families begin to disappear, because of overpopulation and lack in supplies and provision. It is considered to be one the basic changes, because the place of the family has a central role in the Chinese society and new politics One child per couple, is the necessity of nowadays. Chinese family is only allowed to have 1-2 kids, not more. Those who break this rule are considered to be the law breakers and the government takes special sanctions. The aim of population control is one of the priorities of the modern government and understandably it’s justified by the necessity of time. As I suppose the time will change the attitude towards the family that Chinese have now. A new changed attitude will be more similar to the European that a couple marries and later gets a kid, only when it’s affordable. This will course the separation from the family of the husband and in future will change the whole system of relations between the members of the family clan. Though the relations will be preserved, their character will change in the way of influence and dependence of one member of the family from another. It will lead to more independence of new families and will develop the sense of individualism, and self consciousness, that will as the result change the values and will promote the spreading of human right ideas.

Chinese hard working character can be also one of the reasons why did the society accepted such great changes.

Cheap labor and a lot potential workers became the main reason of enormous investments made in Chinese economics in the second part of the twentieth century. In any other time of the country with conservatism it would be impossible to modify the society in such a way. The process of industrialization is a very quick one, one the example of China, and the development of industry that requires new labor also promotes social changes. The dynamics caused by resettlement changes many Chinese traditions, as well as it influences the Western ideas of social system with all the outcomes.

Western civilization brought also western traditions to China, as well as principles of democracy and European humanism. It lead to the spread of European culture first between upper class people, intelligence and educated authorities and later penetrated to education. Even the basics and ideological soil for future socialist dictatorship of Mao had most of all Europeans roots, and none knew that it will be so appropriate for undeveloped half feudal agricultural country as China had been at the beginning of the twenties century. Revolutions and later dictatorship again had a lot to learn and lately used from the achievements of western civilization basically in state government and economical management. Many ideals of western democracy where still realized and in general society benefited from the reforms. Time showed again that Confucian ideas of conservatism and respect of old traditions was not appropriate for the developing society in the 20th century. The good to it is fail of Cultural Revolution and of step forward, which an unreasonable attempt to refuse from everything progressive, new and basically pro-Western in the cultural social and economical life. But the results showed that in the age of globalization old methods would never work, and isolation will only ruin the achievements of the past. It helped Chinese political authorities to understand that myth and illusion will never be realized if they are don’t have any rational ground and to accept new methods of government different from those used before for centuries, because the life of the twenties century is compared to a moving train if you are late to it, it becomes impossible to catch it.

Along with Western influence on Chinese political system, another more powerful attribute of the western world is penetrating to the country’s life changing traditions. Basically it’s publicity and mass media. The power of information is great and its role on the mind of people is great too. The opportunity to get truthful information about current events, ability to read once banned literature and watch Western television, all these are the factors that encourage further influence on Chinese predominantly static culture, changing it to a dynamic one, that will respond the demands of the modern time. The opportunity to use Internet plays an important role too. It’s not banned in China as it’s in North Korea, and the abilities it gives as a source of objective, truthful information will rapidly transform Chinese consciousness. It’s a well known fact that in ex-USSR and Eastern Europe the reforms of the 1980th changed the society greatly, and in less then a decade authoritarian regime changed into democracy.

Western concepts change patriarchal Chinese society, make it more liberal with equal rights for man and woman.

The attributes of western culture that appeared to be appropriate for China had once and forever penetrated to this once isolated country. Most of Chinese both in Western (undeveloped part of China and Eastern part( developed part of the country) wear European type of clothing, use modern electronic facilities for life and even accepted some traditions of the Western civilization. They even celebrated Catholic Christmas, New Year and Easter. As well have their own pop culture that pretends to be similar to European. Even Chinese youth has nearly the same interests as European, though it’s not so free in their life and is still restricted by the life long traditions.

Modern Chinese education is getting closer to Western, but still saves some of national features and ideological influence. Because modern China is predominantly oriented to the English speaking world( as the United States of America, Great Britain), the language of this countries also penetrated to the Chinese society and is studied from school. Confucian conception of self education and all time studying has also adjusted to the new realities of the twentieth century and is now one of the engines of Chinese technical progress.

More influenced by the social changes then ever before Chinese society still presents the characteristics of a conservative one, as it was centuries ago. Globalization issues influenced only certain parts of Chinese social life. But one of the main fundamentals of Chinese society still remains, and it’s a family. For modern Chinese as always before, it’s characteristic to have the orientation on family, or relatively closed group of people both for social life and for the purpose achievement by the means of family groups. In difference to other countries where enterprises attempt to unite the employees to the team-like families in Chinese management the leaders are doing their best to involve their relatives to their businesses and to transform into business family relationships.

Even with all the social changes acquired in the society during last decades it’s difficult to refuse from association of China with tyranny and authoritarism. This policy took place for ages and is not able to change in the mind of people in short period of time even that nowadays Chinese culture influences great tide of liberal and democratic ideas of the west through mass media.

All the changes that concern the execution of democratic principles, humanism and human rights have to be realized gradually, not at once. The main attention should be directed on education, because these concepts will be adopted by children who are more flexible than grown-ups and who would probably be those who will turn them into reality. The interaction with the other world is essential too. And soon as China will become more open and available for foreigners so soon it will be ready to accept new innovations for society and will do it.

From this point human rights activists should gradually form the ground for the building of the democratic juridical state in the minds of Chinese people. Of course it’s not so easy and the problems that seem to be obvious in reality often turn to be extremely complicated. The explanation is the cultural barrier to the main part. That’s why these activists should first realize the cultural traditions of Chinese and only then work on their ideas realization.  A main role should be given to the forming of cultural and spiritual values in minds through religion, literature and mass media. Activists should assist in the forming of the sense of individualism, respect towards others and spiritual education by working with local groups. The world authority should develop and turn into life some kinds of exchange program for people professionally involved in social relations of internal life in China, to learn and analyze the experience of European, American colleagues and to see another ways of many problems solving. Those trained, could also become the human rights activists, because they’ll really have a good idea of what has to be improved.

As the last evens show the role of the Communist party in China’s society declines. The good proof of it is the concessions it gives now: as the right for taking part in legislature, executive and judicial brunches of power to common citizens, non-communist orientated. As Jiang Zemin stated not so long ago in a future decade Communist party will probably refuse from the main part of its program, and its program will be appropriate for time and social changes that occur world wide.

As human rights activists hope it will open more space for their activity work and cooperation with Chinese authorities on the question of promoting human rights ideas.

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