Chinese Conceptions of “Rights”

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Chinese Conceptions of “Rights”: From Mencius to Mao—and Now

One interpretation is “moral vacuum”. Some western journalists and scholars describe the contemporary protests as symptoms of a pervasive“moral vacuum” in which Chinese supposedly find themselves. They depicted Post-Mao China as a society where Marxism has been discredited, but—absent a Western appreciation of individual natural rights—Chinese have no moral compass to guide their changing and confused lives. In other word, We Chinese are lost. The other interpretation is an emergent “rights consciousness”. Many scholars have detected in the surge of popular protest in post-Mao China an emergent “rights consciousness”—indicating a supposed bottom-up claim to citizenship and auguring a fundamental breakthrough in state-society relations.(Next)

Elizabeth also shows us how Chinese government interprets the situation. The government credits the People’s Republic with having bestowed upon the Chinese people an unprecedented enjoyment of human rights—most notably in the form of socioeconomic justice. The government stresses that when it comes to human rights—socioeconomic considerations rank first among its priorities. As for the people, at present, they also enjoy: a right to some minimum standard of living (“subsistence” or shengcun); a right to expect an improvement in that standard (“development” or fazhan). (Next)

The author further elaborates historical views of Rights in china, From Confucius to Mao Zedong and his successors. Confucius: stressed that people have a just claim to a decent livelihood and that a state’s legitimacy depends upon satisfying this claim. Mencius: emphasized the links between economic welfare and legitimate rule. Mao Zedong: articulated the state should promote socioeconomic development. (Next)

“Rights” in West Europe and the U.S.A are quite different from what in China. In West Europe: 18 century: As T. H. Marshall puts it, social citizenship (the collective right...
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