Li Xing

Long road to human rights in the US

Updated: 2011-05-13 07:58

By Li Xing (China Daily)

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The mainstream media in the United States raises the issue of human rights in China whenever it gets the chance, so it was no surprise it arose again during the two-day China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which concluded on Tuesday.

Although co-chairs of the dialogue from both countries hailed their discussions as fruitful, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked during a joint press briefing on Tuesday, most of the achievements may not make it to the media.

Instead, officials were again pressed about their human rights discussions, with one journalist citing events in the Middle East. Western media have long prided themselves on their objectivity and apolitical stance, but the questions prompted Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai to remind them that they should beware of those with political agendas.

Anyone without prejudice will readily acknowledge the "historic" improvement China has made in improving the human rights of its citizens, Cui said.

Prejudice distorts people's thinking and prevents them from looking at things - such as other countries - with objectivity. And prejudice comes from ignorance.


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hen some Chinese people emerged from behind the "iron curtain" to visit Western countries in the 1970s, they examined local life through colored lenses. It is said that after touring a shopping mall one morning and seeing few customers, one revolutionary veteran remarked that capitalism was so cruel that people couldn't afford to go to these department stores.

Chinese people today no longer draw such distorted conclusions, as similar shopping malls and department stores have spread throughout the major cities in China to accommodate the growing appetite of domestic consumers.

But similarly, some in the West have not learned much about China. Some misread the government's reliance on the masses of residents - especially retirees - in helping with social order, accusing China of being a "police state". What they fail to acknowledge is that these elderly are willing to participate because they are safeguarding their homes against possible chaos.

Any Chinese person who suffered during the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976) - which was once called an era of "great democracy" - will not want to see those days return.

We Chinese never say that our political and social systems are without faults. In fact, one of our goals in building a well-off society is to ensure better democratic participation in political decision making. Many rural communities have introduced a series of programs to ensure that community affairs are decided by the farmers for the farmers.

It will be a long, hard political and legal process for China to reach its goal, just as it was for the US, which had to overcome many trials and tribulations. US citizens are proud of their history of democracy and freedom, but during my visit to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the museum guide stressed that most of the early American revolutionaries kept slaves even when they were drafting the Declaration of Independence to ensure that "all men were born equal".

During my visit to Chicago History Museum, I learned that in 1887, four men were executed in Chicago for the Haymarket massacre on May 4, 1886, even though there was no evidence linking these men to the bomb that went off at the market.

It took women in the US 144 years to win the same voting rights as men. It took 188 years before all barriers were removed to enable African-Americans to enjoy the same civil rights as white people.

Some 25 years ago, I had a chance to ride a Trailways bus from North Carolina to New York. I was shocked to see the harsh stare the white driver gave to a bookish African-American young man.

These days, when I walk in the streets of Washington and New York, I see African-Americans with more confidence and pride than I remember seeing during my first trips in the US 25 years ago.

But some of the surviving Freedom Riders, who are gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of their campaign, still see the need to address racial discrimination and ensure full civil rights for African-Americans.

So, we should stop the finger pointing and promote programs to improve both of our societies.

The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily and its chief US correspondent. E-mail:

(China Daily 05/13/2011 page8)


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