ABSTRACT

Few problems between China and the West are both as sensitive and as persistent as human rights issues. In part, this is due to the ideological nature of these issues. Over the past fifty years, human rights have increasingly become a fundamental element in the secular and liberal democratic ideologies of Western nations. Formal adherence to human rights by all governments is slowly but surely becoming a minimal criterion for acceptance by the West. In China, by contrast, Western demands that human rights be observed are viewed as attempts to further Western 'bourgeois' interests. Western calls for adherence to human rights often lead to the opposite of what they seek to bring about. Stung by renewed 'attempts at interference' in its internal affairs, the Chinese authorities adopt a 'principled' (yuanzexing de) stance and reject these calls. Behind this public and highly predictable ritual, however, the sensitivity and persistence of human rights issues in China is also prolonged by deep-seated cultural differences and misunderstandings.