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Kobayashi, Yuka (2016) ''Renquan' - Chinese Human Rights: An' Import' from the West or a Chinese 'Export'?' In: König, Lion and Chaudhuri, Bidisha, (eds.), The Politics of the Other in India and China: Western Concepts in Non-Western Contexts. Oxon; New York: Routledge, pp. 179-192. (Routledge Contemporary Asia Series)

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Introduction Human rights, renquan, is not an indigenous Chinese term.1 In fact, renquan is a borrowed term from Japan that entered into China with Nationalist leaders bringing back new ideals after their return to China from exile in Japan (Angle, 2002; Svensson, 1996). Renquan does not originally exist in Chinese, nor does its Japanese equivalent jinken exist in Japanese. They are direct translations of human ren (Chinese) or jin (Japanese) and rights quan (Chinese) or ken (Japanese). Scholars of Chinese history and philosophy have connected human rights with Confucian notions like ren and li trying to establish that some kind of notion of human rights existed in China prior to Western influence (Peerenboom, 1993, 1995; Angle 2002). However, these ideals are quite far from the human rights as embodied in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNUDHR) from 1948. The origins of the human rights discourse in the West are equally problematic.2 However, there is agreement that human rights originated in the West with the concept of Natural Law, and developed during the age of Enlightenment. For the purposes of this chapter, human rights as defined in the United Nations treaties will be used as a reference point.3 It is recognised that the UN is far from being a truly ‘international’ organisation with its problematic and dated structure.4 However, as it is the closest to an ‘international organisation’ that we have to date, its treaties dealing with human rights will be used as reference definitions of ‘human rights’. The ‘universalist’ versus ‘relativist’ debate in human rights is very controversial and due to space limitations the chapter does not go into this discussion. The focus of this piece is on China’s concept of human rights, which started from a ‘universalist’ stance among Chinese intellectuals, but as it became an issue in policy, increasingly turned ‘relativist’. This chapter will examine the evolution of human rights in China – a product of Western influence that merged with local culture and traditions and developed in cooperation with Japan, and more recently with Asian countries and the global South. It will begin by tracing the origins and establishment of human rights in China. Though it is recognised that human rights is a broad concept, ranging from first, second, and third generation rights, the aim of this chapter is to trace the development of the concept in China, thus the definition of human rights will not be narrowed down. The analysis of the evolution of human rights in China begins with the Qing dynasty during which the human rights concept first entered China, and continues to the present day. In this discussion, China is understood as a continuum from Qing dynasty (1644-1912), the Republican period (1912-1949), and the People’s Republic of China (1949-present). The first section of this chapter examines how the concept of human rights entered China and developed domestically under external influences (both intellectual and political), while the second section of this chapter covers the projection of ‘Chinese human rights’ or rather the ‘export’ of a Chinese version of human rights. Through the examples of Chinese human rights White Papers, the Asian Values movement and survival emissions in climate change negotiations, it will be examined how human rights – originally an ‘import’ from the West – has become a Chinese ‘export’ post-Tiananmen.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Politics & International Studies
School Research Centres > Centre for Asian Legal Studies
ISBN: 9781138851184
Copyright Statement: © 2016 the contributors. This is the accepted version of chapter published by Routledge in Politics of the Other in India and China: Western Concepts in Non-Western Contexts:
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 Feb 2018 13:24

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