Human rights and human dignity
By Nils Bergemann  ·  2024-02-02  ·   Source: China Today


A law-enforcement officer of the Ganzhou District People’s Court is explaining provisions of the Civil Code to a local farmer planting spring crops in the fields at Gun-jiacheng Village of Huazhai Township in Zhangye City, Gansu Province, on April 3, 2023. 

When I talk to German friends who have lived in China for a long time – one of them has been in the country for almost 50 years – they confirm what my Chinese friends also tell me: China has become safer, better educated, and more and more open and prosperous. The increase in security also indicates an improvement in legal certainty and progress in the field of human rights.

Speaking of human rights, it is necessary to mention what is probably the most important human right: the right to a dignified life. With its policy of reform and opening-up, China has lifted an incredibly large number of people out of poverty and become a global economic powerhouse. China is without any doubt the world champion when it comes to the fight against poverty: In the past more than four decades, it managed to lift over 700 million Chinese out of poverty. In other words, China achieved more than 70 percent of the world's successful poverty reduction during this period.

China shows us that there is a direct correlation between the human rights situation in a country and its economic conditions. Economic progress is a crucial factor for the progress of human rights.

In 2004 China incorporated human rights into its constitution by adding, "The State shall respect and protect the human rights." Many Chinese consider that the right to development is an important part of human rights. The Chinese value the fact that the government ensures a secure supply of energy, clean water and food for them, even in difficult global times. In times of crisis, the Chinese government has done a lot to ensure that not only large corporations, but also small and medium-sized enterprises can survive. China has also invested a great deal in its infrastructure. The expanded road and, above all, rail network, enable fast mobility and easier access to work and education.

The Chinese appreciate that their government has quickly and thoughtfully taken various policies and measures to improve the economic situation and stimulate growth, such as investing in infrastructure projects, promoting innovation and technology, stimulating domestic consumption, enhancing trade relations, and implementing reforms in the financial and banking sector. Moreover, the government has also taken measures to limit the country’s debts, ensure the stability of the financial system, and intensify reforms. While other countries are backpedaling in these challenging times, China is opening up further and forging ahead.


A female worker is operating a weaving machine at the rotor spinning workshop of Xinjiang Yicheng Textile Technology Co., Ltd. in Yining County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on September 22, 2023.

China used to be a poor country for a long time. Although it has become a moderately prosperous society, it is still a developing country in terms of per-capita income. Based on its own experience, China knows that the decisive criteria for the human rights situation in a developing country is whether the state promotes economic and social progress and improves people’s quality of life. With its economic growth,

China is improving human rights and looking at infrastructure projects and other win-win collaborations in countries along the Belt and Road from this perspective.

The legal security of citizens has improved as impressively as the country’s prosperity over the past decades of reform and opening-up. During my almost six-year stay in China, I have witnessed many improvements for both nationals and foreigners. For example, the Civil Code promulgated a few years ago not only incorporated the results of legal research, but also a number of practical experiences.

More than one million suggestions from 420,000 Chinese citizens were analyzed in order to meet the needs of the people. The Civil Code fulfills people’s need for legal certainty to a high degree. It is not only the articles on the protection of personal information and virtual property that are close to life and people and up-to-date, but also the provisions on environmental protection and the prohibition of usury.

I have noticed that China does not take a purely individualistic approach to human rights like many Western countries, but attaches more emphasis to the community, and this ideology can find its roots in the country’s collective culture of thousands of years. In China, there is a kind of collective right of the people to political, economic, and cultural self-determination and development.

When it comes to human rights, China agrees with Western countries on fundamental aspects. However, the rights to social development, food, and labor are also considered to be as important as other basic human rights.

China supports the idea that different countries may define human rights differently depending on national characteristics, as China’s value system differs from that of Western countries due to its history, culture, and level of development. The following values are considered relevant in China: democracy, civilization, prosperity, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, the rule of law, patriotism, devotion, integrity, and friendship.

The Chinese government defines human rights as conferred and protected by the State. The individual rights of citizens must not violate the rights of others or the interests of society and the State. At the same time, they are also linked to duties toward society and the State.

In the end, human rights are closely linked to human dignity. The country that offers people the best in the field of human rights will be the most attractive.  

Nils Bergemann, once a veteran German journalist and editor, now teaches German, linguistics and economics at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

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