The Chinese government’s understanding of human rights is fundamentally different from that widely held by much of the West. Additionally, many human rights lawyers oppose the Chinese government’s views and practices. This dissonance poses a threat to the stability of the region, especially considering China’s common historical cycle of oppression, protest and revolution. While potential protests may indeed bring about change, possibly even a positive one, instability is a probable byproduct, as seen in China’s own revolutionary past. However, change will come slowly in the People’s Republic of China until the majority of its population is aware of the ruling party’s human rights violations. There are several groups fighting for this change and as a result, China is seeing new laws that can improve the human rights situation. A special group of lawyers, called human rights lawyers seek to enforce these laws within the government. While it may be an uphill battle, human rights lawyers need to continue to pressure the government within their rights, and they will need support from the international community. Stability in China is of top priority for U.S. national security. A new level of chaos in the region could translate to a decline in the Chinese economy, which is so vital to the world market, in particular the U.S. economy.
Due to government surveillance and crackdown against dissent, particularly within the media, it is difficult for Chinese citizens to become aware of human rights violations within their country. The problem is compounded by U.S. media which only reports a fraction of the violations that are committed in China each day. In order to understand the scope and nature of government censorship and crackdowns, we need to look at the historical precedents established by the Communist party’s rise to power in 1949. Chairman Mao Zedong, founder of the Communist party, set many practices in motion during his tenure. Mao orchestrated the state ownership of several industries, the organization of the party, and the coalescing of a military force. Additionally, he sought to create a nation that would remain unified. This often meant ousting prominent party members who disagreed with Mao’s current agenda. Mao enforced his Cultural Revolution throughout the 1960’s while attempting to eradicate dissent. Tactics employed by Mao included forced relocation, labor camps, and mass riots against anyone who he considered anti-revolutionary. Part of Mao’s success in unifying the country was the creation of the Red Guard, a teenage and young adult group whose mission was to watch out for and protect the party in any way possible. They were often responsible for acts of violence and inciting riots. One of the many prominent leaders that arose from among the Red Guard was Peng Liyuan, wife of current president Xi Jinping.
These unifying techniques established by Mao Zedong have continued today where it is common practice for dissenting party members to be ousted, as seen with prominent party member Bo Xilai. In this particular incident, Bo threatened the status quo within the party by allowing a popular dissent movement within his jurisdiction. The party exposed many of his misdeeds, and he was subsequently stripped of his position and likely any future leadership role within China. It is unlikely that the Communist party was previously unaware of his misdeeds and it is also likely that other party members were involved. The party simply chose to bring his acts to light when it fit with the overall party directive.
While this kind of political power is frightening, it is not necessarily a direct violation of human rights, but it merely highlights the disposition of the party. The true violations of human rights occur when ordinary citizens cause any disturbance to the political party. Because it is less likely that ordinary citizens have extensive track records of misdeeds offensive to the party like Bo, the party must find new ways to silence dissenters. Common practices in this realm include unlawful detention, beatings, forced confessions, and murder. Chen Kegui, brother of the blind civil rights advocate and self-taught lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, was sentenced to three years and three months in prison in November for assaulting and injuring a government official who broke into the family’s home in April during a frantic search for the escaped Chen Guangcheng. The brief trial was riddled with irregularities that thwarted the defense. Chen Kegui “said that detention guards repeatedly ‘threatened him that if he did not follow their demands or if he appealed, he’d face a life sentence.” Another case is that of party official Jia Jiuxiang. After being detained for 11 days, Jia succumbed to his injuries. When his family was allowed to identify the body, Jia was covered in bruises.
While most cases remain undocumented, severe cases such as these do reach the international community. Only recently, in light of international as well as local pressure from human rights lawyers, China has passed laws that require the police to notify the families of any persons being detained by the government. However, This law, like many others, is not enforced by the Chinese government. This corrupt legal environment has given rise to human rights lawyers attempting to force the government to abide by its own laws. Indeed, there is great strength when citizens are allowed to fight for the rights their own governments nominally award them.
International support for these lawyers can influence policy changes. As an emerging global leader, it is in China’s best interest to make internal changes that bring it more in line with the global community. Consequently, China has passed a number of laws to reform the way that people are detained and the manner in which detainees are treated. This reform is not due to a change in party ideology, but rather a desire to maintain control and stability. As president Xi Jinping commented in an internal meeting, the Soviet Communist party collapsed because they did not adhere to party beliefs. Human rights violations remain a direct threat to the security of Chinese citizens, which in turn threatens the stability of an already volatile region. Should the Chinese people follow suit of their predecessors in the 20’s, 40’s, and 60’s by attempting to revolt, it will not remain an internal matter. While complete peace may not be possible, diplomacy and the rule of law at are still viable options and should be pursued. Outdated practices within the Communist party no longer maintain control, but rather create discord within the State. Should the Chinese government fail to reform its practices, Chinese citizens may begin to demonstrate more and more violently, creating instability within China and, consequently, instability in the world market. Therefore, U.S. policy makers should support and empower human rights lawyers within China. Applying internal and international pressure on the Communist party would facilitate reform. Heightened Media and diplomatic pressure would decrease risk and eventually create retainable stability.