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Deng Pufang: Promote Humanitarianism in China

Deng Pufang, president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF), has been awarded the 2003 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights. Deng is the first Chinese person and the first disabled person to win this special honor. This attests to the approval of the international community of China's persistent safeguard of the legitimate rights and interests of disabled people.  

The following is an interview by People's Daily staff reporter Yuan Jianda with Deng.


Q: Congratulations on winning the 2003 UN human rights prize. As a disabled person, what do you think of the award you just received?


Deng: As the UN gave the human rights prize this time to a disabled Chinese person, it serves a dual purpose. First, it demonstrates that over the past years, China's human rights protection has made great headway, and the government's sustained effort in the field has gained the approval of the international community.


Second, it indicates that issues for disabled people have drawn worldwide attention. More and more people began to view this question from the position of human rights. Currently an international convention on disabled persons' rights is being drafted, showing that the international community has attached great importance to safeguarding the rights of disabled people.


Q: Judging from your receiving the UN award, can we say the situation for China's disabled people is satisfactory?


Deng: Definitely not. Under no circumstances should we say that. However, great progress has been made in this respect.


In terms of the real living conditions of disabled people in China, over 10 million of them are living below the national poverty line. Far from being satisfactory, to tackle the issue of disabled people at its root cause, the road ahead is still very long.


Q: As is well known, you became paralyzed from the waist down during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976). You have been widely quoted as saying "Inhuman chaos left me with a paralyzed body, but I'm now using it to build up a humanitarian system in China." Is this your ultimate goal in life?


Deng: I must make a necessary correction here. As a matter of fact, your quotation is not what I originally said, but it indeed voices my innermost thoughts and feelings. To promote humanitarianism in China is a lofty goal that I shall pursue throughout my life. After all, humanitarian philosophy was once missing from China's history.


In the 1960s, humanitarianism was vehemently criticized in China. Then a number of atrocious, inhuman crimes were committed during the notorious "cultural revolution." This was a lesson written in blood. History tells us that only once humanitarian ideas have taken root in the hearts of the people, both human rights and human dignity can be respected.


Q: What is the appropriate way for a physically sound person to treat a disabled one?


Deng: First and foremost, all good and kind-hearted people should have sympathy for the disabled.


At the same time, disabled people should be respected in society. For a disabled person, to get uninvited aid is very important in daily life, but it's even more so for them not to be regarded as handicapped or useless. More disabled persons appreciate respect from other people's innermost heart.


Confronted with their own physical deformity, some disabled people tend to have a strong sense of inferiority. In reality, this phenomenon has been caused by deep-seated social prejudice and discrimination. Contrasting sharply, some other disabled people have constantly strived through adversity. They are never defeated; on the contrary, they carry tenaciously against misfortune, and eventually are able to stand on equal footing with others. Their courage is worthy of great esteem.


Q: You have been the president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF) for many years. In your opinion, as far as poor disabled people are concerned, what are the problems that need a solution urgently? And what has the CDPF done for the disabled in the past?


Deng: Well, in this respect, the basic necessities of a disabled person's life -- namely food, clothing and shelter -- have to be assured in the first instance.


In recent years, the government has devoted major efforts to implementing an "aid-the-poor" program nationwide. Each year a loan is set up exclusively for the use of helping poor disabled people shake off poverty. Besides the problem of inadequate food and clothing, there still exist many other issues including medical treatment, education and employment that need to be settled urgently.


Over previous years, the CDPF has helped 8.8 million disabled people recover their health and dignity. In terms of disabled peoples' education, in 1987, school enrollment rate was only 2.7 percent for blind children, 5.5 percent for deaf children, and 0.33 percent for mentally retarded children. Thanks to CDPF's efforts, so far the gross school enrollment rate has reached 74 percent all told. The number of special education schools for the needs of the disabled has increased from 500 or so in the beginning to over 1,600 nowadays. In particular, during the 1980s and 1990s, almost every year saw an increase of some 100 special education schools.


In terms of disabled people's employment, the CDPF collected serious money at first, and then spent the money on vocational training. Against the background of a large number of workers being laid off, the employment rate has kept rising for the disabled. This is a remarkable achievement.


The 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has clearly put forward the objective of building a well-off society in an all-round way in China. However, helping the disabled get rid of poverty is one thing; helping them live a well-off life is another. To a greater extent, the latter relies on knowledge accumulation and professional competence improvement by the disabled themselves. To be quite frank, in this respect we're still trying to gather experience.


Q: To better protect disabled people's rights, what has the CDPF done in terms of the country's policy-making?


Deng: Over a decade has passed since the implementation of the law on the protection of the disabled in 1990. As the society has changed a lot, some stipulations in the law look outdated today. Consequently, the amendment of the 13-year-old law has been put on the agenda.


Besides, we are drafting rules and regulations relating to disabled people's employment, which aim to create a fair employment environment for the disabled.


Local legislation should take disabled people's interests into account. According to many countries' traffic regulations, when physical conditions permit, disabled people are allowed to drive cars. This is a good example for us. However, our city mayors seem to be more concerned about the issue of motor tricycles assisting disabled people. Indeed, driving a motor tricycle may cause some traffic problems. But just imagine, if all motor tricycles were banned, as some mayors have suggested, what would the disabled do to be mobile?


In terms of law enforcement, both the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference should strengthen supervision, and solve disabled people's difficulties and needs.


Q: As is well known, you are the son of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Did your father give you any help during his lifetime, in the protection of the disabled?


Deng: As a matter of fact, I never asked a personal favor of my father, because I don't want to give other people a false impression that I was benefiting from my father's reputation. Nevertheless, I have been deeply impressed by his selfless support of the work of protecting the disabled.


(China.org.cn by Shao Da and Daragh Moller, December 25, 2003)

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