XIAOPING’S HUMAN RIGHTS THEORY
The human rights issue is one central concern of the
international community. Since its founding, the United Nations has worked out
over 70 documents relating to human rights. These have set the universal
principles of human rights for the international society and raised the
protection of human rights to the level of international law. But in practice
there have been severe contradictions and tensions. The most prominent
manifestation of this is that some Western great powers have interfered in other
countries’ internal affairs and pursued power politics under the pretence of
human rights. Deng Xiaoping went to the heart of the issue in one pertinent
remark, pointing out that “Our concept of human rights is, in essence,
different from that of the Western world, because we see the question from a
different point of view”. 1 Combining theory with practice, he made
a penetrating exposition of the dialectical relations between individual and
collective human rights. He pointed out that national sovereignty is far more
important than human rights, laid special stress on the importance of realizing
the right to development and peace, and criticized Western traditional human
rights theories and individualism. All these showed clearly the correct
direction for the contemporary international community’s practices on human
The human rights generally recognized by the
international community are basically of two categories: individual human rights
and collective human rights. The documents relating to human rights passed by
the United Nations, especially The Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights and The International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, set the universal principles of
individual human rights and collective human rights. The two are different, but
closely related. How the contradictions between them are dealt with is one of
the principled differences on the human rights concept between China and Western
countries. Deng Xiaoping spoke out on: “What are human rights; how many people
are they meant for; and whether these rights belong to the minority, to the
majority or to all the people in a country?”2 The Western world
puts undue emphasis on individual human rights, the basic content of which is
“natural rights”. Individuals seek rights to democracy, freedom, equality
This kind of human rights concept is also embodied in
the U.N. documents on human rights:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal security. No one
should be held in slavery, subjected to torture or to cruel treatment.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination
to equal protection of the law.
No one should be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy.
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence.
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in
Adult men and women have the right to marry.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, of belief, of
communication, of opinion and expression, of peaceful assembly and of
Everyone has right to vote and stand for election.
Everyone has the right of equal access to public service.
No one should be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Meanwhile, U.N. documents on human rights stress
collective human rights. They include economic, social and cultural rights,
rights to national autonomy and racial equality, rights to development and
peace, permanent sovereignty over natural resources, rights to participate in
and enjoy human common heritage, to protect the human environment and
unconditionally to accept humanitarian aid. Through the long-term efforts of
developing countries the international community has come to recognize these
collective rights. The human rights stressed by Deng as belonging to the
majority or the people are a summary of collective human rights. He also pointed
out that “personal interest” should be “combined with the overall
interests of the collective, the state and society”. 3 “Were we
to do the opposite and pursue personal, local or immediate interests at the
expense of the others, both sets of interests would inevitably suffer.” 4
collective human rights by individual human rights will certainly lead to
individual privileges which infringe upon the interests of the others.
Therefore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses that everyone has
duties to the community and everyone shall be subject only to such limitations
as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and
respect for the rights and freedoms of others. Individuals and collectives are
all subjects and players in human rights, and both should work in concert and
harmony. But in practical life, contradictions and conflicts between individuals
and collectives on rights and interests may often occur. The principle for
resolving contradictions and conflicts is that the rights belonging to the
collective are above individual human rights and personal interests must be
combined with the overall interests of the collective.
SOVEREIGNTY FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN HUMAN RIGHTS
National sovereignty is the highest and most
important embodiment of collective human rights.
Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “Actually, national
sovereignty is far more important than human rights, but the Group of Seven (or
Eight) often infringe upon the sovereignty of poor, weak countries of the Third
World. Their talk about human rights, freedom and democracy is designed only to
safeguard the interests of the strong, rich countries, which take advantage of
their strength to bully weak countries, and which pursue hegemony and practise
power politics.”5 Looking back on the history of over 100 years,
colonial and imperialist aggression, plunder and oppression have reduced many
countries in the world to the status of colonies and semi-colonies; their
peoples live in an abyss of misery. After a country loses its sovereignty it is
impossible for its people to enjoy real human rights. Historical experience
tells us that the “first priority should always be given to national
sovereignty and security.”
“Some Western countries, on the pretext that China
has an unsatisfactory human rights record and an irrational and illegitimate
socialist system, attempt to jeopardise our national sovereignty. But countries
that play power politics are not qualified to talk about human rights. How many
people’s human rights have they violated throughout the world!”6
In fact, it is the third world developing countries which pay most attention to
human rights. Their people most bitterly hate the power politics and hegemony of
the great powers which take advantage of their strength to bully weak countries,
through cruel colonial and imperialist invasion.
People know well that only when national sovereignty
is maintained and is in their own hands can individual human rights be ensured.
The realization of both individual and collective human rights cannot be
divorced from the jurisdiction of the country. The improvement and enhancement
of the human rights in each country are bound to rely on the gradual strivings
of a country according to its conditions; no foreign country can take another
countries’ job into its own hands, still less meddle in their internal affairs
and infringe on their sovereignty on the pretext of human rights.
The Charter of the United Nations points out that the
peoples of the Unite Nations are:
determined to save succeeding generations from the
scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to
mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and
worth of the human being, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations
large and small, . . . to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one
another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international
peace and security, . . . for the promotion of the economic and social
advancement of all peoples.
But, some Western big powers act in a contrary
fashion and have attempted to pursue their own values and human rights standards
as universal principles. They make frequent indiscreet remarks or criticisms and
unwarranted charges against other countries. All systems, methods and modes that
differ from theirs are rebuked without exception as autocracy, dictatorship,
wanton trampling on democracy, and infringement of human rights. In the U.S. Country
Reports on Human Rights Practices each year and in the activities of the
U.N. Commission on Human Rights, almost all countries criticized by name are
developing countries. In fact developing countries have made important
contributions to international human rights activities and constantly improve
their own human rights situations. Most having suffered from foreign aggression
and oppression, understand more deeply that national sovereignty is the
fundamental premise for realizing their human rights. The U.N. Declaration
on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples points out
that all peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of
their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory, as well as to
freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social
and cultural development.
In the current international community, all states
have their respective political, economic, cultural and social background, and
naturally adopt different ways and methods in the process of promoting and
protecting human rights. But in dealing with the relations between national
sovereignty and human rights, national sovereignty must be given the top
priority. Therefore, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “People who value human
rights should not forget the rights of the state. When they talk about human
dignity, they should not forget national dignity. In particular, if the
developing countries of the Third World, like China, have no national
self-respect and do not cherish their independence, they will not enjoy that
independence for long.”7 “In studying and handling problems, both
of us place the highest importance on the national interest.”8
IS THE ABSOLUTE PRINCIPLE
The right to development is one of the important and
inalienable human rights universally recognized by the international community,
and most countries and peoples in the world are very concerned about it. Deng
Xiaoping pointed out that “Some countries have problems basically because they
have failed to push their economy forward. In those countries people do not have
enough food and clothing, their wage increases are wiped out by inflation, their
living standards keep dropping and for a long time they have had to tighten
their belts.”9 Therefore, to enable members of these nations fully
to enjoy human rights, “it is crucial to expand the economy”. “Development
is the absolute principle.”10 The fact is that in our global
village poverty is the main obstacle to most countries and peoples realizing
universal human rights principles. To poverty-stricken people, freedom,
democracy, equality and happiness can only be an unattainable dream. Vast
numbers of the people living in misery yearn for adequate food and clothing.
Only by developing the economy can a necessary material foundation be laid for a
comprehensive guarantee of human rights.
Development is one of “the two really great issues
confronting the world today, issues of global strategic significance”.11
The reality of the current society is a wide gap between the North and the South
in economic development, the increasingly strong scientific and technological
superiority of the North, the developing knowledge-oriented economy and
information technology bringing about a great development in productivity with
each passing day. Monopoly capital represented by transnational corporations is
further strengthening its control of the world economy and increasing its share
and competitiveness in the world market. In recent years, developing countries
in the South have made encouraging progress, but their economies are still at a
low level and very fragile. A single financial storm can wipe out all their
achievements over many years. Three fourths of the world’s total population
live in impoverished countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Many
developing countries remain in the difficult position of being debt-ridden and
unable to make ends meet. Economic crises, grain crises and energy crises have
succeeded one another. Many customers of the large banks of developed countries
can use ATM to withdraw money all over the world, while many poor people in
developing countries have to borrow money from nearby persons practicing usury.
This is the harsh reality of the gap between the North and the South. The U.N. Teheran
Declaration points out that the increasingly wide gap between economically
developed countries and developing countries has hindered the realization of
human rights in the international community.
Realization of the right to development is an urgent
need not only of developing countries, but is of the same importance to
developed countries. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “some Third World
countries are becoming more prosperous, but they cannot yet be considered
developed. And many others are still extremely poor. Unless their economic
problems are solved, it will be hard for all the Third World countries to
develop and for the developed countries to advance further”. “In short, if
the countries in the South are not duly developed, the countries in the North
will find only very limited outlets for their capital and products; indeed, if
the South remains poor, the North will find no outlets at all.”12
If the North-South problem is not solved, it will
hinder the development of the world economy. The solution, of course, lies in
North-South dialogue. . . . But dialogue alone is not enough; cooperation among
Third World countries -- in other words, South-South cooperation -- should be
stepped up as well. Exchanges, learning from each other and cooperation among
these countries can help solve many problems, and the prospects are promising.
The developed countries should appreciate that greater development of their
economies is impossible without growth in the economies of Third World
far as China is concerned, he pointed out that China is still poor; a GDP of US$
one trillion will mean a higher standard of living for its people and China will
be able to contribute more to humankind. “More important, it will allow us to
approach the standard of the developed countries in another 30 to 50 years’
time.”14 It is evident that the realization of right to development
is a long-term and arduous task for all the countries in the world. This gives
the guarantee of human rights in the international community a new aspect.
HEGEMONY AND SAFEGUARDING PEACE
This is one of the themes of the current
international community for realizing the right to peace. The U.N. Declaration
on the Right of Peoples to Peace solemnly declares that “the peoples of
our planet have a sacred right to peace” and “the preservation of the right
of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a
fundamental obligation of each State”. Safeguarding international peace and
security is the aim of the United Nations and also an important element in
realizing fundamental human rights. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that peace is one
of “the two really great issues confronting the world today, issues of global
strategic significance”. “To work for peace one must oppose hegemony and
Since WWII, the peace issue has not been resolved and
the world is still not too tranquil. From 1945 to the early 1990s, over 100
major conflicts occurred in the world, causing more than 20 million deaths.
According to statistics, after the end of the Cold War, from 1990 to 1997, 273
local wars and armed conflicts on various scales occurred in the world, of which
79 were new. In Africa, tribal and racial conflicts, border disputes and civil
wars have emerged for years on end. In the Balkans, the Bosnian War lasted for
four years, then the Kosovo crisis broke out and NATO brutally trampled on the
Charter of the United Nations and conducted wanton bombing and air attacks
against Yugoslavia. In the Gulf area of the Middle East, the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait triggered the Gulf War, which was the local war with the largest number
of countries participating, the most advanced weapons and on a scale
unprecedented since WWII. Incidents were again provoked because of Iraqi weapons
inspection issue and the U.S. and Britain carried out military strikes against
Iraq. In the Caucasus there are endless disputes and frequent wars with the
smoke of gunpowder filling the air. In those countries and regions suffering
upheavals, conflicts and wars, there is no peace, people suffer and large
numbers of refugees flee abroad. One cannot begin to talk about enjoying
fundamental human rights.
The causes of this lack of peace in the world are
complicated, but the main source is the hegemony and power politics that
threaten world peace and stability. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that in inciting
unrest in many countries, the Western world, especially the U.S., is “actually
playing power politics and seeking hegemony. They are trying to bring into their
sphere of influence countries that heretofore they have not been able to
control”.16 This is the essence of the issue. Some Western great
powers rely on their superiority in economy, military affairs, science,
technology and culture. Regardless of the norms of international relations, they
make use of such issues as human rights wantonly to interfere in other
countries’ internal affairs. They assume the airs of the “world leaders”
and “world police” and try to impose their own social system and values on
others. They exert pressure and even sanctions and armed intervention on all
those not to their taste, thus causing disputes or tense situations. Taking a
broad view of the wars and armed conflicts all over the world in recent years
one can find the hand of some Western great powers.
Realizing the human right to peace requires the
establishment of a new order of international relations. “The key principle
governing the new international order should be noninterference in other
countries’ internal affairs and social systems. It won’t work to require all
the countries in the world to copy the patterns set by the United States,
Britain and France.”17 This is the universal voice of the vast
countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Practice has also proved that
“allowing a few countries to monopolize everything, as they have done for
years, has never solved any problems, and it never will.” “If the Western
developed countries insisted on interfering in other countries’ internal
affairs and social systems, it would lead to international turmoil, especially
in the developing countries of the Third World”.18 Therefore, the
only correct solution “is peaceful coexistence and cooperation of all
countries with different social systems on the basis of the Five Principles, not
interference in other countries’ internal affairs and provoking disorder”.19
STABILITY IS OF
Summing up the practical experiences of China and the
world at large, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “stability is of overriding
importance.” “Human rights and democratic rights are not related to this
question.” “The reason is very simple. In China, which has a huge population
and a poor economic foundation, nothing can be accomplished without good public
order, political stability and unity.”
As soon as they seized power, the so-called fighters
for democracy would start fighting each other. And if a civil war broke out,
with blood flowing like a river, what ‘human rights’ would there be? If
civil war broke out in China, with each faction dominating a region, production
declining, transportation disrupted and not millions or tens of millions, but
hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing the country, it is the Asia-Pacific
region, which is at present the most promising in the world, that would be the
first to be affected. And that would lead to disaster on a world scale.20
In order to maintain political stability and unity it
is imperative to oppose bourgeois liberalization. “In developing our
democracy, we cannot simply copy bourgeois democracy”. If we copied Western
systems, “that would only make a mess of everything”.21 “The
democracy in capitalist societies is bourgeois democracy -- in fact, it is the
democracy of monopoly capitalists. It is no more than a system of multiparty
elections, separation of judicial, executive and legislative powers and a
bicameral legislature. Ours is the system of people’s congresses and
people’s democracy under the leadership of the Communist Party; we cannot
adopt the practice of the West.”22 According to China’s
conditions, the building and improvement of a democratic system requires a very
long time. But Western countries “are unhappy that China adheres to
socialism”. So they make use of human rights to stir up troubles, interfere in
other countries’ internal affairs and even exert sanctions against them. Their
final strategic objective is “to bring about the peaceful evolution of
socialist countries towards capitalism”.23 This is the essence of
“human rights diplomacy” of some Western countries.
We cannot abandon the people’s democratic dictatorship. Deng Xiaoping
pointed out that to maintain political stability and unity, “we cannot abandon
the people’s democratic dictatorship”.24 China implements the
policy of reform and opening-up and insists on the socialist road. Though it has
developed rapidly in the last 20 years, it is still in the initial stage of
socialism, which will last for a very long historical period. “For a fairly
long period of time the proletariat, as a new, rising class is necessarily
weaker than the bourgeoisie. If it is to seize political power and build
socialism, it must therefore impose a dictatorship to resist capitalist
attack.” “If some people practise bourgeois liberalization and create
turmoil by demanding bourgeois human rights and democracy, we have to stop
them.” “It is right to consolidate the people’s power by employing the
force of the people’s democratic dictatorship. There is nothing wrong in
In sum, “if China wanted to shake off poverty and
modernize, stability was crucial.”26 To maintain stability, it is
imperative to oppose bourgeois liberalization. Implementing the people’s
democratic system is just to protect the majority’s human rights, safeguard
national sovereignty and realize rights to development and peace.
For judging the soundness of a country’s political
system, Deng Xiaoping put forward three criteria: “First, whether the country
is politically stable; second, whether the system and policies help to
strengthen unity among the people and to raise their living standards; and
third, whether the productive forces keep developing.”27 Practice
has proved that China’s implementation of the people’s democratic system has
safeguarded political stability, promoted the rapid development of productivity,
constantly improved the people’s living standards and ensured the people’s
enjoyment of human rights. Deng Xiaoping laid much stress on improving the legal
system and pointed out that “to ensure people’s democracy, we must
strengthen our legal system. Democracy has to be institutionalized and written
into law.” “We must stress the need to effectively restructure and improve
the systems of the Party and state in such a way as to ensure institutionally
the practice of democracy in political life, in economic management and in all
other aspects of social activity.”28
Under the new situation of reform and opening-up,
China has paid special attention to strengthening and improving the legal
system. It is under the fundamental national system that the human rights of the
Chinese people have been strongly protected. According to China’s conditions
and under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping’s human rights theory, China’s human
rights practice has been developing and improving. What needs repeated emphasis
is that “stability is of overriding importance.” and that “we cannot
abandon the people’s democratic dictatorship.” China is the largest
developing country in the world and a stable and developing China is a firm
force to maintain world peace. It will make due contributions to the human
rights undertaking of the international community.
1. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, p. 130.
3. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2, p. 236.
4. Ibid., p. 183.
5. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, p. 334.
6. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, p. 336.
7. Ibid., p. 321.
8. Ibid., p. 320.
9. Ibid ., p. 342.
10. Ibid ., pp. 363, 365.
11. Ibid ., p. 111.
12. Ibid., p. 112.
13. Ibid., p. 66.
14. Ibid., p. 67.
15. Ibid., p. 66.
16. Ibid., p. 336.
17. Ibid., p. 346.
18. Ibid., p. 347.
19. Ibid., p. 348.
20. Ibid., pp. 321, 347.
21. Ibid., pp. 195, 196.
22. Ibid., pp. 237-238.
23. Ibid., p. 333.
24. Ibid., p. 351.
25. Ibid., pp. 351-352, 367.
26. Ibid., p. 336.
27. Ibid., p. 213.
28. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2, pp. 156, 334.