China and Human Rights

A friend in America asked me about human rights and environment protection. It got me thinking.

They are worrying about whether sky should be the limit, but I rather think it’s because they have both their feet on the ground. Here people are still stuck worrying about whether the ground beneath their feet is going to crumble.

I could think of several reasons why human rights and environment protection are not top on our priority list:

  1. Government care more about GDP and their massive faces than happiness. I think governments all tend to, but it’s just especially severe here in China.
  2. Some people still have their next meal to worry about, and human rights are pushed far, far behind.
  3. Others are not educated to think human rights should be a fuss. “No one’s starving. I have houses and cars. Why bother?”

In short, we’re just far behind, in more ways than one, that what comes out as no-human-rights and not-caring-about-environment are just a facade of what we really have to deal with. If one goes back in time to, say the 50s in the States, I don’t think they would have succeeded persuading people back then to care more about  a bunch of trees. And I suppose the farmers would feel offended: Who are you, to give instructions to me on how I’d deal with my things on my own land?

And the touchiness and defiance when it comes to outside advice is especially true when those counties have been invaded in the past, and have had a hard time forgetting what happened then. China, Japan, Both Koreas… All those countries with a huge amount of pride as well as patriotism, have a hard time receiving feedback from the outside [1].

Which, leaves us the option of seeing to change from within. However the question has never been whether we should change, but exactly how?

The problem is, people here are not desperate enough to have to choose between fight and death. As a matter of fact, though people grudge sulkily when it comes to the great firewall and what not, from many’s view they are living quite an enjoyable life here. It is a good thing, that no one is doing anything stupid pumped up by adrenalin; but it is also a bad thing that nothing big is going to happen overnight.

I don’t think rebellion by force should be an option here, but that is another story [2].

The difference between US in the 1950s and China in the 2010s is that back in 1950s America didn’t have a “more advanced” culture to pressure them forward. That’s both good and bad too. Good in the sense that China now has a vague idea of what works, and it could learn from all the trial-and-errors if it wants to; bad in the sense that when it stumbles forward in what it thinks is the right direction those already far forward point and stare in disbelief.

Well… I’m still optimistic. Time would solve us.



[1] Interestingly, counties work like individual people–when one is not yet comfortable and at ease with who they are, they tend to have a huge amount of dignity, honour, pride and could easily be offended. Psychology papers suggest this has to do with where the person grow up in. I think it’s just environment.

[2] First, I don’t trust the “people” here. There were countless emperors in Chinese history, many of whom overthrown their predecessors swearing they were doing it for the greater good, for the people. But once they have their bottom firmly set upon the throne, they cast away everything they said. It’s the system that failed them. There should never have been a throne, but it came in a package anyway.

Second, democracy only represents the average level of everyone in the society. If people were to decide everything among themselves in China now, I doubt many things would improve at all, if not crumble all together. I was thinking about (a) Tyranny of the majority in the north in US history, (b) the power failure in NY, quote, “The police said the worst incidents of looting were in downtown Brooklyn, East Harlem and on the Upper West Side. A police officer said that Third Avenue in East Harlem ‘is demolished,’ and added, ‘it’s like a bomb hit it.'”, and (c) the No Man’s Land in Batman, quote, “Leveled by a massive earthquake that left thousands dead and millions more wounded, Gotham City has been transformed into a lawless wilderness–a No Man’s Land–where the survivors are turning against one another, and where the city’s protectors are torn by a crisis that may consume them all,” Without a strong authority, good ones turn bad. Level of education and wealth does matter.