The year 2003 was an important and unusual year for China's development. It was also a year of great, landmark significance for progress in human rights in the country. In 2003, the Chinese government did a good job in tackling the sudden outbreak of SARS and curbing its spread, as well as in tackling frequent natural disasters. Persisting in taking economic construction as its central task, and striving for the coordinated development of material, political and spiritual civilizations, it achieved new breakthroughs in its reform, opening-up and modernization efforts. China maintained political stability, and achieved rapid economic growth and overall social progress. Moreover, further improvements were witnessed in the people's living standards and new progress was made in human rights cause.

The Chinese government gives top priority to the people's life and health and basic human rights. Adopting the attitude of holding itself accountable to the people, acting in their interests and accepting their supervision, the Chinese government has formulated the principles of government, that is, "governing the country for the people," and "using the power for the people, sharing the feelings of the people and working for the interests of the people."

It has put forward the scientific view of development characterized by putting people first and promoting the progress of society and overall development of the people. It has established the concept of governing the country by guaranteeing the implementation of the Constitution, establishing a government under the rule of law and creating political civilization.

In practice, it has adopted a series of distinctively epochal measures for respecting and safeguarding human rights. It has made great efforts to acquaint itself with the feelings of the people, to reflect such feelings, to reduce the people's burdens and practice democracy. These efforts have markedly improved China's human rights conditions and won universal acknowledgement from the international community.

In 2003 the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) proposed amendments to the current Constitution by adding the provision that "the state respects and safeguards human rights," among others. Not long ago, the Second Session of the Tenth National People's Congress (NPC) examined and adopted the amendments to the Constitution.

The added contents include stipulations on promoting the coordinated development of material, political and spiritual civilizations, establishing and improving the social security system, and respecting and safeguarding human rights. The amendments also include improvements to the land requisition system and the system for the protection of citizens' lawful private property, fully demonstrating that revisions to the Constitution are made to benefit the people and guarantee human rights.

Of particular importance is the formal addition, for the first time ever, of "the state respects and safeguards human rights" to the fundamental law of the state, indicating that respecting and safeguarding human rights has been upgraded from the level of Party and government policy and stand to the level of a constitutional principle, from an idea and value of the Party and government regarding its governance and administration to an idea and value inherent in state construction, thus further confirming the prominent status of human rights protection in China's legal system and state development strategy and opening wider prospects for the overall development of China's human rights cause.

Despite the fact that China has made great efforts to promote and safeguard human rights, there is still much room for improvement of the human rights conditions, as China is a developing country with a big population and natural, historical, development-level and other limitations. The Chinese government attaches great importance to existing problems, and will continue to take active and effective measures to steadily improve China's human rights conditions and earnestly raise the level of human rights enjoyed by the Chinese people.

To help the international community toward a better understanding of the human rights situation in China, we hereby give an overview of the developments in the field of human rights in China in 2003.