Over the last two decades, especially in the past 13 years, China has witnessed eight historic changes in the progress of human rights, along with its achievements in developing a market economy with socialist characteristics.
1. Historic Changes in the Rights to Subsistence and Development
Over the years of reform and opening to the outside world, China’s economy developed rapidly and the Chinese people have basically gotten rid of poverty and become better-off. This is a great change unprecedented in Chinese history.
The most obvious change is seen in the country’s overall economic strength. China has risen from the 10th in the world, and 2nd among developing countries in terms of economic strength in 1990 to the 6th and first respectively in 2001. Its GDP reached US$1,000 billion for the first time in 2000, with per-capita GDP of over US$800. The figures grew to US$1,158 billion and US$900 respectively in 2001, an increase of almost two times of those of 1990 calculated according to constant prices.
Remarkable increases have occurred in people’s income and quality of life. In 2001, the average annual disposable income per head for urban residents was 6,860 yuan (US$828), 20 times of the 344 yuan (US$42) of 1978. The average annual disposable income per head for rural residents grew to 2,366 yuan (US$286), 18 times of the 134 yuan (US$16) in 1978. The Engel coefficient (the proportion of food expenses in the total consumption expenditure) of urban residents in 2001 was 37.9 percent, a 16.6 decrease from that of 1989 and a 19.6 percent drop from that of 1978. For rural residents, the Engel coefficient in 2001 was 47.7 percent, a decrease of 7.1 percent and 20 percent from that of 1989 and 1978 respectively. The average living space for an urban resident is presently over 10 square meters, and about 25 square meters for a rural resident. There are more than 100 cars for every 10,000 urban residents, which was unimaginable in the past.
Great improvement in satisfying people’s right to subsistence and development can be seen in the domestic market which has changed from one of shortage in supply to one of abundance since 1988. Now, there is not only nothing in short supply but 86 percent of commodities are excess of supply over demand. China has created the miracle of feeding 22 percent of the world’s population with only 7 percent of its land.
2. Civil Rights and Political Rights in a Time of Socialist Market Economy
In the process of developing a socialist market economy, the civil rights and political rights of the Chinese people have been characterized with the new period of market economy.
In economic activities, the Chinese people have enjoyed the freedom, equality and tangibly benefits brought to them by the socialist economic system. While keeping the public sector of the economy in the dominant position, diversified economic elements are encouraged to develop, and people can make investment, start and manage their own businesses, and assume sole responsibility for its profits or losses. They are enjoying the civil rights, which are obtainable only after the reform and opening up, and this is great progress in China’s history.
In political life, the Chinese people enjoy their responsibility, prestige and dignity of being the master of the country. The private entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals have formed a social stratum that has newly emerged with the socialist market economy. While benefiting from the government’s economic policies and taking an active part in developing the market economy, they are also builders of China’s socialism and masters of the country.
These private entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals have also been given due respect and recognition by the Chinese Communist Party, the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at various levels. Among them, many of the outstanding have joined the Chinese Communist Party. Their representatives made up a certain percentage among the 2,979 deputies to the Ninth NPC in 1998, together with the other deputies of workers, farmers, intellectuals and cadres, the People’s Liberation Army, those from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Macao Special Administrative Region, as well as returned overseas Chinese. Among the Ninth CPPCC members, 59.5 percent came from people of this new social stratum and the non-Communist parties, as well as patriots with no party affiliation; they made up 63.4 percent of its Standing Committee. This is also a great progress in people’s civil rights and political rights which reflects the characteristics of the time of reform and opening up to the outside world.
In social life, the Chinese people have enjoyed the democracy, freedom and civilization ensured by the socialist political democracy. The NPC and CPPCC have played important roles in building political democracy in China. Political democratic construction undertaken at grass-root levels is going on steadily in rural areas, and the setting up of self-governing villagers’ c committees has become the inevitable trend to promote democracy in rural China. Religious beliefs and normal religious activities are protected by law. So far various religious groups have established contacts with their counterparts in over 70 countries and regions in the world.
Human rights are under judicial protection in China. The central and local public security bureaus and judicial organs punish all kinds of criminals and economic crimes to protect people’s lives and properties. Meanwhile, the legal rights of the defendants and suspects are also protected. Since 1983, more than 40,000 people have been acquitted of crimes by the court at different levels in China.
3. People’s Consciousness of Their Rights to Peace and Stability
It has become a common knowledge of the Chinese people that the right to peace is an important part of human rights. Having suffered many wars inflicted upon them by the power nations in the past, the Chinese people cherish peace deeply today. The pursuit and defense of peace have virtually become a human-rights concept and a specific criterion of behavior for the Chinese people.
The Chinese people have generally realized that the right to stability is also an important part of human rights. From the modern Chinese history, the Chinese people see that without stability, there would be no progress and prosperity of the country, and there would be no peaceful, well-to-do and happy life for them. Both the state and people need stability. Any disregard of the Chinese people’s right to a peaceful environment is a violation of the national will and a trampling on China’s national dignity.
The East Turkistan terrorists committed many crimes by producing more than 200 violent cases in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region between 1990 and 2001, killing 162 people and causing injuries to 440. This kind of infringement on human rights and the threat to peace and stability shall not be tolerated by the Chinese people.
4. Great Achievements in Protecting the Human Rights of Ethnic Minorities, Women and the Disabled
The protection of the human rights of ethnic minorities shows the prime and progress of Chinese civilization today.
The develop-the-west campaign is an important step of the Chinese nation to keep pace with the times on the basis of the political system of regional ethnic autonomy. It has brought hope to the ethnic minority peoples in the remote western regions to make a big progress unprecedented in their history. Since 1997, the growth rate of GDP in the regions inhabited by minority ethnic groups has been successively higher than that of the national average.
The Chinese government has paid great attention to the preservation of the traditional cultures of the ethnic minorities and has allocated large amount of fund to support education in areas inhabited by them. Among the 55 minority ethnic groups, 53 have their own languages, with more than 80 language varieties, which compose an important part of the rich and colorful Chinese culture.
To offer special protection for women and children is a good tradition of Chinese civilization.
The Outline of the Program for Women’s Development in China (2001-2010) and the Outline of the Program for Children’s Development in Chinese (2001-2010) issued in May 2001 by the Chinese government show its care and concern for the human rights of women and children, the future of the nation. Women’s participation in public and national affairs is the practice to promote their human rights. The number of women officials in the country has reached 14.88 million currently, 36.7 percent of the nation’s total, an increase of 4.06 million over the figure of 1991.
Women’s human rights to employment have been properly protected by law. According to statistics, the number of working women in both urban and rural areas have increased from 288 million in 1990 to 330 million in 2000, making up about 46 percent of the total labor force in employment and producing about 38 percent of China’s total GDP. More and more women have received education and the health of women and children are improving daily. The mortality rate of pregnant women and women in labor has dropped from 88.9 per 100,000 in 1990 to 53 per 100,000 in 2000.
The protection of the human rights of the disabled is a glorious achievement in Chinese history.
After the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of the Disabled Persons was issued in 1990, stipulations concerning the rights of the disabled were written into 40 important laws. China’s Tenth Five-Year (2001-2005) Work Program for People with Disability was promulgated and implemented in 2001.
The disabled people’s rights to employment are protected by the Chinese government. At present, there are 960,000 disabled people working in welfare enterprises. The system of work arrangement for the disabled has been carried out in 720 cities and 2,529 counties and districts. There are presently 1.11 million disabled people who have been employed, making up 83 percent of the disabled population in China.
Care for the disabled is an important part of the government’s poverty-relief program. In 2001, 1.68 million disabled people were relieved from poverty, and 2.6 million disabled in sheer plight received help for keeping a basic standard of living. The disabled in China also enjoy a richer cultural life with more than 3,000 recreational centers set up specially for them. To understand, respect, care and help the disabled have become the practice of common Chinese people.
5. Formation of a Legal System for Human Rights Protection
A socialist legal system for human rights protection has been formed gradually in China which, based on the Constitution, consists mainly of the basic civil, criminal, economic, administrative and procedural laws and is reinforced by many state and local rules and regulations. This is significant progress of human rights in China’s history.
The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China is the basic law for the guarantee of human rights.
The Constitution stipulates that all the state powers belong to the people, who are the master of the country. Revisions have been made to the Constitution several times, mainly to increase the part for human rights protection. Specific stipulations have been made on the major human rights such as people’s civil rights, political rights, economic rights, cultural rights, social rights, private rights and collective rights. The Constitution is the general guide for the practice, preservation and protection of human rights in China in the new historical period.
The legal system of human rights protection in China is formed comprehensively, systematically, and scientifically.
Up to September 2002, the NPC and its Standing Committee had formulated 430 laws and regulations concerning human rights protection. The State Council had set up more than 800 administrative regulations, and over 8,000 local rules in this respect were also made by NPC organizations at various local levels.
The basic and important laws in the seven major areas of legislation, such as the Constitution and relevant organic laws, civil and commercial laws, administrative laws, economic laws, laws concerning social life, criminal laws, procedure laws and laws on administrative reconsideration, have all been basically formulated and put into practice. These laws are closely related to the human rights issues in the political, economic, and social life of the Chinese citizens, forming a systematic whole of human rights protection in China. Every law or regulation set up today has been tested in practice, thoroughly proven, and worked out in strict procedures before promulgation to ensure that they have been formulated scientifically.
China’s characteristic legal system for human rights protection is to keep pace with the times.
The Ninth NPC deemed that the making of new laws and the revising of the old ones were equally important. While formulating a group of much needed new laws, it also revised many old laws that are not compatible with the market economy and the present situation of human rights protection. In recent years, the Trust Law and the Law on the Prevention and Cure of Occupational Diseases were passed by the NPC and its Standing Committee. The Law on the Management of Pharmaceuticals, the Patent Law, the Law on Sino-Foreign Cooperative Enterprises, the Foreign Capital Enterprise Law, the Law on Sino-Foreign Joint Ventures, the Copyright Law and the Trademark Law have also been revised to regulate the property and credit relationship in the market, and to protect the legal rights and safety of the laborers. This has provided legal foundation and protection for China to take an active part in international cooperation and competition.
6. Systematic Theories on Human Rights Protection with Chinese Characteristics Begin to Take Shape
A theory can be considered systematic if it has a scientifically formed guideline, a central theme for the whole system, major problems to study and address, and a series of relevant concepts and categories. According to these conditions, we may well say that the systematic theories of human rights protection with Chinese characteristics have already begun to take shape.
This system of human rights theories has a scientific and theoretical guideline. The Three Represents (The Communist Party of China represents the development trend of advanced productive forces, the orientation of advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China.) is an important new theory that has combined the basic Marxist principles with the practice of China today, representing a new stage in the development of Marxism in China. The logical requirement of historical progress and the need of the times has made it necessary for us to promote and develop China’s human rights theories under the guidance of the Three Represents and to build a socialist China to meet the requirement of the Three Represents.
The central theme of this system of human rights theories is to realize the full and free development of human beings, a target of human rights progress in China. This will be the major idea of eternal value in the system of human rights theories in China.
Among the major problems facing human rights studies in China, the primary ones to tackle are: How to develop human rights protection under the guidance of the Three Represents? How to respond to and solve a series of human rights problems posed by the socialist market economy? How to further practice and promote the right to subsistence and development? How to better use and develop the right to peace and stability? How to ensure the implementation of human rights? And how to fully understand the concepts of generality and specialty of human rights as well as the individual human rights and collective human rights?
The system of human rights theories has a series of important concepts and categories, such as the human being; personality; human rights; the ideas, practice, progress and protection of human rights; cooperation and exchange in the realm of human rights; the struggle for human rights; the relationship between human rights and politics, economy, society, culture, legal construction, globalization, informationalization and the new economy.
7. A Social Network of International Exchanges on Human Rights Issues Has Been Formed
The Chinese people always stand for dialogue, exchange, cooperation, instead of confrontation, when human rights issues are concerned. International exchanges on human rights issues have generally been made through governmental and non-governmental channels, or specifically, at four levels:
First, between governments. The Chinese government has always advocated, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, dialogue, exchange and cooperation on human rights issues, so as to increase understanding and expand common ground between China and other countries.
Second, between non-governmental organizations (NGO). NGOs in China have actively participated in international exchanges concerning human rights issues within their frames of work, and have been effectively promoting understanding between NGOs of different countries in various fields.
Third, between voluntary associations closely related to human rights protection. Voluntary organizations such as the China Charity Federation, the Red Cross Society of China, and China Disabled Persons’ Federation have all contributed remarkably to the international exchanges concerning human rights protection.
Fourth, between human rights organizations. China Foundation for Human Rights Development has been actively engaged in international exchanges concerning human rights issues since it was founded in 1994. As it has been playing a more and more important role in this respect, the foundation has received much attention and favorable comments from other parts of the world.
8. China Has Embarked on a Road of Human Rights Progress with Socialist Chinese Characteristics
China has found a road to promote the progress of human rights vigorously with socialist characteristics.
The ultimate goal of this road is to realize the full and free development of human beings. The present-stage target is to focus on developing productivity to ensure the basic human rights to subsistence and development, while progressing gradually towards the full and comprehensive development of human beings.
The guideline for this road is to devote totally to achieving common prosperity and raising the living standard of the Chinese people by developing productivity so as to promote the comprehensive progress of human rights in China.
Along this road, while stress is put on people’s human rights to subsistence and development, attention will also be given to their rights to politics, economy, culture and society, and the balanced development of both the individuals and the collective.
China will progress along this road step by step, on the precondition of stability promoted by the reform. Its development shall be secured by law and supported by morality.
It is the principles for international exchange on human rights progress that, on the basis of equality and mutual respect, to make efforts to replace confrontation with common ground and eliminate differences, so as to expand understanding and cooperation in the realm of human rights and friendship between the Chinese and other peoples of the world.
(China.org.cn January 6, 2003)