The year 1999 witnessed the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). For the previous half century, the Chinese people, led by the Chinese government, had unswervingly probed into and fought for the elimination of poverty and backwardness, the building of a strong and prosperous, culturally advanced, democratic country, and the achievement of the lofty ideal of complete human rights. As a result, the situation of human rights in China has seen tremendous changes.


I. A Historic Turning Point in the Progress of
Human Rights in China

In the old semi-colonial, semi-feudal China, the broad masses were oppressed by imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, and had no human rights at all. But after New China was founded in 1949, the Chinese government and people waged a series of large-scale campaigns, rapidly sweeping away the dregs left over from the old society, and established a basic political system which could promote and protect human rights, so that the nation and society took on an entirely new look and a new epoch was started for the progress of human rights in China.

--Realizing and upholding genuine and complete national independence, and creating the requisite premise for the progress of human rights. Invaded and enslaved by various foreign powers, old China lost its state sovereignty, and its people's human rights lost their minimum guarantee. The first important achievement of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which led the Chinese people to victory in the people's democratic revolution, was to drive the imperialist invaders out of China, paving the way for China to realize real independence. New China, after its founding, promptly abolished all unequal treaties which had been imposed on China by various imperialist countries and all the privileges they had grabbed from China, resolutely confiscated the property of fascist countries in China, completely uprooted the political and economic privileges of the imperialists' colonial rule in China and realized complete state independence. In the early period after the founding of New China, the Western countries, headed by the United States, carried out a total-containment policy of political non-recognition, economic blockade and military encirclement against China. They brazenly waged the Korean War in 1950, which was extended to the Yalu River, the border of China, in an attempt to strangle the newly founded PRC in the cradle. In spite of great difficulties, New China, defying brute force, was compelled to wage a just war to defend the homeland and achieved a great victory, effectively safeguarding state independence and the people's security. Meanwhile, New China firmly followed an independent and peaceful foreign policy, actively advocated and earnestly adhered to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, developed relations with foreign countries based on equality, mutual benefit, peace and friendship, successfully frustrated the isolation, blockade, interference and provocation by international antagonistic forces, and won wide respect from international society. The genuine and complete independence of China has created the fundamental premise for the Chinese people's selection of their own social and political systems and a path for development with the initiative in their own hands, for China's opening to the outside world, for steady and healthy development, and for the uninterrupted improvement of human rights in China.

--Establishing and perfecting the people's democratic political system, and guaranteeing their democratic rights to be masters of their own affairs. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which was inaugurated in 1949, adopted the Common Program of the CPPCC, which served as the country's provisional constitution, elected the Central People's Government, and declared the birth of the PRC. The Common Program clearly stipulated that state power belonged to the people, who, according to the law, had the right to vote and stand for election, and had the freedoms of ideology, speech, the press, assembly, association, correspondence, the person residence, change of residence, religious belief, demonstration and procession. It also stipulated that all the laws, decrees and judicial systems enacted by the reactionary Kuomintang government to oppress the people had been abolished, that laws and decrees were to be formulated to protect the people, and that the people's judicial system was to be established. In February 1953, China promulgated the Electoral Law of the PRC. In December 1953, a general election was held nationwide. The registered electors accounted for 97 percent of the citizens of and above the age of 18, of whom 85.88 percent participated in the election. They elected 5.669 million grass-roots deputies, and 1,226 deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC). These deputies featured wide representativeness. This was the first nationwide general election in Chinese history; it helped to realize the people's democratic right to participate in the management of state affairs. In September 1954, the First Session of the First NPC was held in Beijing. Based on the people's democracy, the session adopted the Constitution of the PRC. Before being submitted to the NPC for examination, the draft Constitution was made public for the whole country to hold a two-month discussion. About 150 million people took part in the discussion, and put forward more than 1.16 million questions and suggestions for amendments and supplements. The enacting of the national constitution on the basis of such a broad discussion by the whole country was not only unprecedented in Chinese history, but also rare in the history of the world. The Constitution prescribed the character of the state, the functions of state organs, and the rights and duties of citizens, laying a foundation for China's democracy and legal construction. The establishment and improvement of the basic political system on the basis of people's democracy provided a fundamental political guarantee for the realization of the right of the people to be the masters of their own affairs.

--Carrying out the land reform and other democratic reforms, abolishing the old systems and customs which oppressed the people, sweeping away various social evils, and clearing away obstacles to the development of New China's human rights. In old China, landlords and rich peasants, who accounted for less than 10 percent of the rural population, owned some 80 percent of the land, while poor peasants, farm laborers and middle peasants, who accounted for more than 90 percent of the population, owned only about 20 percent of the land. In order to liberate the broad masses of poverty-stricken peasants and emancipate the social productive forces, New China, just after its founding, launched a vigorous nationwide land reform movement. It abolished land ownership by the feudal landlord class, and delivered the land into the hands of the farmers. As a result, more than 300 million peasants with no or little land got about 46.67 million hectares of land along with the means of production without compensation, and were exempted from the heavy land rent of about 35 billion kilograms of grain, which previously had to be paid to landlords each year, thus greatly improving the economic positions and living conditions of the peasants. At the same time, democratic reforms were carried out in the production and management systems of state-run industrial, mining and transportation enterprises. Various old systems which had oppressed and enslaved workers, such as the feudal gangmasters system practiced by bureaucrat-capitalist enterprises, were annulled. The divisive feudal trade associations and regionalism were abolished. Factory management committees and congresses of workers and staff members were established, which absorbed workers into factory management so as to realize democracy in enterprise management and make workers the real masters of their enterprises. Simultaneously, the old wage system was adjusted, a labor insurance system was introduced, and workers and administrative staff's welfare and living standards were improved.

To liberate women and abolish the feudal marriage system which discriminated against and oppressed women, in 1950 New China promulgated the Marriage Law of the PRC, which was the first law to be enacted by new China. The law completely abolished the feudal marriage system of arranged and coerced marriages, men's superiority to women, and neglect of the interests of offsprings, and cleared the way for a new marriage system of freedom of marriage, monogamy, equality between men and women, and protection of the lawful rights and interests of women and offsprings. At the same time, large-scale publicity work and a mass movement to put the Marriage Law into effect were carried out nationwide. As a result, the ideas of the equality between men and women and freedom of marriage became deeply rooted in the hearts of the people, and women's status was greatly raised.

Prostitution, drug trafficking and addiction, and gambling are social evils left over from old China, as well as chronic social diseases endangering the people's physical and mental health. They were resolutely prohibited right after the founding of New China. In November 1949, the second people's conference of Beijing took the lead in prohibiting prostitution. The city promptly closed all brothels, and provided education and medical treatment for prostitutes, enabling them to live off their own labor. Following Beijing, all other large, middle-sized and small cities nationwide successively prohibited prostitution. In a short period of time, this hotbed of crimes, which had seriously ruined women's physical and mental health and their dignity for more than 3,000 years in China, was stamped out. As for drug taking, gambling and other social evils which were closely connected with the reactionary ruling forces and the underworld in old China, the people's government, on one hand mobilized the masses to struggle against and punish drug producers, drug traffickers and gambling rings, and on the other it did extensive publicity work so as to enhance the consciousness of the masses, and reform drug addicts and gamblers. After two to three years of efforts, these social plagues, which had not vanished despite repeated prohibitions in old China, were basically wiped out, and China's social life took a new and healthy turn for the better.

--Opposing ethnic oppression and discrimination, developing ethnic equality, mutual aid and unity, and carrying out the ethnic regional autonomy system. In old China, serious ethnic discrimination and oppression existed for quite a long time; many ethnic minorities, which were not recognized, were in adverse circumstances, and some minority people had to hide themselves deep in the mountains, living in isolation. After the founding of New China in 1949, the Chinese government abolished all ethnic oppression and discrimination, and liberated the minority peoples. To eliminate the estrangement produced by ethnic oppression in old China, the Central People's Government sent, between 1950 and 1952, groups to minority areas to express sympathy and solicitude, and organized groups of ethnic minorities to visit the capital and other places in China, thus strengthening understanding and friendship among all ethnic groups. In 1951, the Central People's Government promulgated the Directives on the Handling of the Titles, Names of Places, Tablets and Signboards Which Are Discriminative and Insulting to Ethnic Minorities. To carry out the ethnic equality policy, in 1953 the Chinese government started a large-scale program to identify all the country's ethnic peoples. A total of 55 ethnic minorities were identified, thus making each ethnic minority an equal member of China's family of peoples for the first time in history. At the same time, the Chinese government initiated a movement to universally promote and educate Chinese citizens in ethnic theories and policies, strongly advocated ethnic equality and unity, and opposed ethnic chauvinism, especially Han chauvinism.

Meanwhile, to change the backward economic and social situation in minority areas, the Chinese government actively and steadily carried out democratic reforms in the areas inhabited by minority peoples. On the premise of fully respecting the will of ethnic minorities, and respecting and protecting their religious beliefs, customs and habits, the Chinese government helped minority peoples to reform their backward production methods and social systems, and develop economic and cultural undertakings, thus enabling the social development of the ethnic minorities to leap over several historical stages. To guarantee the special rights and interests of ethnic minorities, the Chinese government established ethnic self-government organs and instituted ethnic regional autonomy in the areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities. In August 1952, China promulgated the Outline for the Implementation of Ethnic Regional Autonomy in the PRC, which specifies the details of the policy of ethnic regional autonomy. The successful implementation of ethnic regional autonomy has effectively guaranteed the equal rights of ethnic minorities in the big family of China, and their right to administer their respective ethnic and local affairs in a self-governing manner.

--Establishing the socialist system, and promoting social and economic development and the improvement of the people's enjoyment of human rights. After the founding of New China, the People's Government carried out the land reform and other democratic reforms, and adopted powerful measures to stabilize prices and promote economic development. It took only three years for China to heal the wounds of war, and build the national economy and the people's livelihood to the highest level in history. On this basis, the Chinese government lost no time in starting the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicraft industry and capitalist industry and commerce, thus fundamentally eliminating the system of exploitation of man by man and establishing a basic socialist economic system. Since then, the Chinese people have become the masters of their means of production and the owners of the wealth of society, thus calling forth their enthusiasm for building a new country and creating a new life, and promoting the rapid development of society and the economy, and the improvement of the people's livelihood. According to statistics, the nation's total industrial output value in 1957 increased by 128.3 percent over that of 1952, with an average annual growth of 18 percent; the total agricultural output value rose by 25 percent; and the average consumption level of all the people in the country grew by more than one third. The establishment of the socialist system has provided the basic guarantee for the people throughout the country to constantly improve their human rights situation on the basis of equal participation in economic development and sharing the fruits of labor.

Through these profound social reforms, involving getting rid of the old and creating the new, New China has not only realized a historic turning point in the development of human rights, but also initiated a brand-new starting point for further exploration and the progress and development of the cause of human rights.