VI. The Cross-Century Development Prospects
for Human Rights in China
Fifty years is but a moment in human history. Nevertheless, in the past 50 years the Chinese people have made a great historic leap in the development of human rights. In safeguarding and promoting human rights, although setbacks occurred, one indisputable basic fact is that after unremitting efforts over half a century, the poverty-stricken, weak and humiliated old China has become an independent New China in the early stage of prosperity, and the 1.25 billion Chinese people have become the masters of their own destiny. They have changed the terrible situation of chronic hunger, cold and ignorance, rid China of the label of "The Sick Man of East Asia," lead a civilized and healthy life of plenty, and enjoy unprecedented democracy and freedom. We can say that the human rights situation in present-day China is totally different from that of the old China -- even compared with the years before the initiation of reform and opening-up, the great progress that has been made in this respect is universally acknowledged.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that China is still a developing country. Limited by impediments of natural, historical and economic development, there is still room for improvement with regard to the levels of China's democracy and legal system building, the degree of social civilization and people's living standards. However, on the basis of 50 years of development, especially with the successful experiences accumulated in the past 20 years of reform and opening-up, the Chinese government and people are capable of solving the problems on the road of advance, and will make constant progress in their endeavors to improve human rights.
First, to fully realize human rights is a basic goal of China's cross-century development. After China adopted the policy of reform and opening-up, it worked out a cross-century economic development strategy to realize modernization in three stages, each stage being aimed at enhancing China's overall national strength and improving the Chinese people's living standards. This inevitably entails improving the human rights situation. The goals of the first and second stages -- to solve the problems of food and clothing of the entire Chinese people and to enable them to live a relatively comfortable life -- have already been basically achieved; the goal of the third stage -- to reach the level of the medium-developed countries in the mid-21st century, so that the entire Chinese people can realize common prosperity -- already has a relatively good foundation. At the 15th National Congress of the CPC held in 1997, on the basis of summing up experiences, and from the height of China's cross-century development, while reiterating the three-stage development strategy, emphasis was placed on democracy and legal system building. The congress stressed the continuance of the reform of the political system, the further expansion of democracy, the perfection of the legal system, and making "exercising the rule of law'' a basic state policy. In March 1999, the Second Session of the Ninth NPC included "exercising the rule of law and building a socialist country governed according to law'' in the Constitution, making ``exercising the rule of law and building a country governed according to law'' a basic goal of the reform of the political system and the democracy and legal system building, which is fixed in the form of the fundamental law of the state. The essence of this goal is guaranteeing that the Party and the government control political power and administer the state according to law, that the law-enforcement departments work in accordance with the law, and that the citizens exercise their rights and perform their duties in accordance with the law. In short, we must guarantee human rights in the country's laws and systems. Therefore, the implementation of the strategy of exercising the rule of law and the realization of the goal of building a country governed according to law possess important and essential significance in guaranteeing human rights and promoting China's cross-century development of human rights.
Second, since China introduced the policy of reform and opening-up, it has found a road for the promotion and development of human rights that suits its reality. China is a developing country in the East with a long history and a huge population, but with a relative shortage of resources and wealth. To promote human rights in such a country, China cannot copy the mode of human rights development of the developed Western countries, nor can it copy the methods of other developing countries. China can only start from its own reality and explore a road with its own characteristics. Since the introduction of the policy of reform and opening-up, China has, on the basis of summing up its historical experiences and drawing lessons from them, found a road to building socialism with Chinese characteristics, and therefore has found a road to promoting and developing human rights which is in line with the country's reality. This means putting the rights to subsistence and development in the first place, under the conditions of reform, development and stability, and thus promoting human rights development in an overall way. The characteristics of this road are, in terms of the basic orientation of developing human rights, that we stick to the principle of developing the productive forces and promoting common prosperity, based on the improvement of the living standards of the entire people and promoting the human rights of the entire people; in terms of the order of priority, the top priority is given to the rights to subsistence and development, while taking into consideration the people's political, economic, social and cultural rights and the overall development of individual and collective rights; in terms of the methods of promoting and guaranteeing human rights, we stress that stability is the prerequisite, development is the key, reform is the motive power, and government according to law is the guarantee. Over the past 20 years, China has stuck to this correct road of development. As a result, not only have the living standards and mental outlook of the Chinese people changed greatly, but a set of relatively complete political and legal systems that guarantee the people's democratic rights have been formed. Thus, great progress has been made in putting human rights into a legal and institutional framework, and China's human rights development has been improving constantly. Practice has proved that building socialism with Chinese characteristics is a road of development that is in accordance with the fundamental interests of the Chinese people, and also the only road which can effectively promote human rights in China.
We can say that China's cross-century development objective in the sphere of human rights has been set, the foundation has been laid, and the road has been opened. Looking forward to the 21st century, we have every reason to believe that China's human rights situation will see unwavering improvement, as long as we follow the plans laid down at the Party's 15th National Congress, and while continuing to carry out the three-stage economic development strategy, earnestly implement the general plan of exercising the rule of law and strive to build a socialist country governed according to law.