When my book club recently discussed a wonderful novel about China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I noticed that, like many Americans, most of us tend to think of China as a much greater violator of human rights than the U.S.A. The hosting of the Olympic Games in Beijing has certainly raised our level of questioning, along with, too often, our cultural biases. But the truth is, both countries have serious problems with human rights violations, and in some areas, our U.S. record is far weaker than China's.
Neither of the two governments has yet adequately addressed issues of poverty, racial discrimination, hunger, homelessness, and equitable education and health care among their populations, although China’s recent governmental policies and decisions have resulted in a Chinese economy which has grown more steadily and much faster than ours during the last decade, greatly benefiting their people’s standard of living–while ours has increasingly been failing us.
Among our country's very legitimate gripes about Chinese human rights is China's lack of freedom of the press. The U.S. has serious issues of corporate control over opinion in mainstream media outlets (our big TV channels have never seriously attempted to address the present topic of comparative human rights violations, for instance); even so, the U.S. (with a very free internet and many other independent news media outlets) still remains among the freest countries in the world, as far as freedom of speech and freedom of the press are concerned. We would all strongly wish to see China improve in press and speech freedom. Personally, I hope China finds some way to have a free internet without the hate, lies, and pornography our internet endures, but so far, that’s tricky for both cultures.
China strictly disallows secession from its union (Tibet, Taiwan), just as our own government once bloodily disallowed secession from our own U.S. “union,” of our southern Confederate states (although we wildly celebrated Texas’ secession from Mexico, as well as the breakup of the Soviet Union, so the purity of the principles of union and secession remain pretty arbitrary.) Like China's government, our own government hurries to put down any civil unrest, disruptions, and riots (see Watts and many other U.S. rebellions throughout history…. ) Like China, the U.S. also continues to refuse to consider either sovereignty or separation from the U.S. of many of our U.S. former colonial possessions–for instance, Puerto Rico, and others.
Americans are also legitimately upset about China's one-child policy, about the many who have been coerced into unwanted abortions or punished for their “anti-social” choices. Certainly the availability of abortion itself seems a human rights violation to many Americans. On the other hand, few Americans are aware of the enormity of the Chinese over-population problem (not enough food and jobs, for instance), which the one-child policy has greatly helped to address. Millions in China have been raised from extreme poverty since this program was instituted.
Many also look upon China's one-(communist)-party system as a violation of human rights, and indeed, most first world democracies do boast parliaments with a wide diversity of parties represented across the broadest possible political spectrum. Nevertheless, as in the U.S., most Chinese citizens (not all) consider their government to be not only legitimate, but also representative. In China, as in the U.S., many factions and perspectives contest within their one-party system and our (also very limited) two-party (market economy) system. Dissidents in both countries have attempted to broaden real power to more than the present status of one or two similar parties, but so far both political systems have proven resistant to change.
My point is, both of these two countries have serious problems with human and political rights, freedoms, and opportunities.
What the Chinese find most egregious about U.S. human rights violations are, of course, those areas of human rights in which their country (China) is comparatively far superior to ours. For instance, we have vastly more violent and commonplace civil crime, many more law-enforcement violations of civil rights, by far the world’s largest (in percentage of population, as well as total) prison population, customary brutality to prisoners, serious challenges to workers rights to unionize, significant abuse of women and children living in poverty (rape, prostitution, drug addiction, alcoholism, physical abuse…), and we also have far too much money in politics, threatening our democracy. We have also failed for many years to ratify popular international conventions on human rights, particularly the rights of women and children, as well as international environmental conventions.
We are also a serious violator of the sovereignty and human rights of citizens of many other countries around the world. Consider the civilian deaths and humanitarian disasters associated with our invasion of Iraq, our secret jails around the world, our government-accepted use of torture, Abu Graib, ten+ violent regime changes orchestrated by the U.S. in other countries, Guantanamo Bay…. At least China keeps its human rights violations mostly at home, and in recent history, has not invaded, nor dropped nuclear bombs on civilian populations, nor posted its armies or political prisons throughout the world, as the U.S. has.
The Chinese began issuing their annual “Human Rights Record of the United States” only after the U.S. issued annual scathing reports on over a hundred other countries (but did not critique our own distressing human rights record in the U.S.) The Chinese conclude their report with a statement that I agree with:
“To respect and safeguard human rights is an important achievement in the progress of human society, and an important symbol of modern civilization. It is also a common goal of people of all countries and races, and a key theme of the tide of progress in our time. All countries have an obligation to make efforts to promote and protect human rights in their own territories, and to promote international cooperation in accordance with the norms of international relations. No country in the world should view itself as the incarnation of human rights, and use human rights as a tool to interfere in the affairs of, and exert pressure on, other countries, and to realize its own strategic interests. The U.S. reigns over other countries and releases “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” year after year. Its arrogant critiques of the human rights of other countries are always accompanied by a deliberate ignoring of serious human rights problems on its own territory. This is not only inconsistent with universally recognized norms of international relations, but also exposes the double standards and downright hypocrisy of the United States on the human rights issue, and inevitably impairs its international image. We hereby advise the U.S. government to face its own human rights problems and give up its unwise practices of applying double standards on human rights issues.”
Here is a link to China's 2008 Report on U.S. human rights violations:
It is my personal wish that every country would treat all other nations as they would like to be treated (the golden rule, Confucius' rule too), that we would all conquer our enemies in the only way that works over time, by making them friends, and by supporting their most cherished projects and treating them with respect, courtesy, and appreciation. Every country has weaknesses and strengths, and every country needs acceptance and kindness in order to improve. We all have much to teach, and to learn from one another.
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