The right to lead a good life

By Chung-yue Chang
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, March 16, 2011
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It takes good governance, and people's hard work and sacrifices, to create national wealth. And this is the time to deliver the benefits of this wealth back to the people, where it belongs. A "people-based" government must therefore be "law-based" and "service-oriented", and government workers must be "true public servants".

National wealth now supports China's modernization. With the creation of wealth comes the responsibility to distribute it fairly to support and improve people's livelihood. The primacy of people's livelihood is rooted in the Chinese tradition of governance. This unbroken line of thinking goes back to philosopher Hsunzi (313 - 238 BC) who said: "Without enriching people materially, there is no way to develop them." The book, Guanzi (attributed to statesman Guan Zhong, about 725 - 645 BC), states similarly: "When the granaries are full, people know their rites and manners; when fed and clothed, people know their sense of honor and shame." A modern translation would be something like this: "To live well is the most fundamental of human rights."

It is in this sense that China's reform and opening-up should be appreciated. Economic reform has eradicated poverty to a large extent and enabled people to lead a better life. In a short period of one generation, China succeeded in lifting 400 million people out of poverty. Within another one to two decades, China aims to root out poverty altogether.

Everyone is impressed by China's status as the world's second largest economy. But in terms of per capita income, China still ranks below more than 100 countries. China remains a developing country, but one that has discovered a way to eradicate poverty. This is a powerful demonstration of human rights in action, as opposed to human rights in locution. China's success will have lasting implication on countries still battling with poverty.

The world may be interested in knowing that China's enormous economic and human rights success is because of its radical pragmatic approach, akin to Deng Xiaoping's "crossing the river by feeling the stones". China did not start its journey on the "river" of economic reform with a universal model. In the beginning and along the way, the only aspects China knew were conditions such as currents of unpredictable socio-economic twists and turns along with favorable conditions, or the visible and invisible factors (or "stones"), which offered footing and direction.

The Chinese people are close to the other shore of the turbulent river thanks to their sacrifices, passion, reason and, above all, will. Even now Premier Wen uses phrases like "a footprint with every step" to describe how tasks are done pragmatically. This radical pragmatic tradition, rooted in Chinese culture and philosophy, can be traced to philosophers Confucius (551 to 479 BC), Laozi (4th century BC), and Mozi (circa 470 - 391BC).

But it should be known that whatever China has achieved (and is achieving and will achieve) is for "peace and harmony".

The author teaches philosophy in the United States.

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