【Book review】Xi Jinping: On Respecting and Protecting Human Rights-China’s commitment to human rights admirably explained

This photo taken on Nov. 22, 2023 shows books of Spanish-Chinese version of "Xi Jinping on Respecting and Protecting Human Rights" in Madrid, Spain. (Xinhua/Meng Dingbo)

It has been a great dream that all men living on this planet can enjoy rights that define a worthwhile life. What makes a leader great is his/her vision and ability to realize the dream. Since the dawn of civilization, human communities have been distinguished from one another by a diversity of ideas and perspectives, which, in time, are crystalized into common sense. Peace, harmony, cruelty and atrocity are intermingled. It is through the intermingling of good and evil that gives man a much deeper understanding of the importance of respecting human dignity and rights. It is worth noting that the universality of human rights and differences in history, country and culture are two sides of the same coin.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government, led by the Communist Party of China (CPC), has made great strides in continuously promoting human rights and wellbeing. Xi Jinping: On Respecting and Protecting Human Rights, the latest book authored by President Xi, presents the approach of the CPC, Chinese government and Chinese nation to human rights. The book is divided into nine chapters totaling 335 paragraphs in the form of President Xi’s speeches, comments, congratulatory letters and instructions from November 15, 2012 to October 30, 2021. This book is translated into Arabic, Portuguese, German, Kiswahili, Urdu and Vietnamese, and published by Foreign Languages Press. These multilanguage versions offer an invaluable insight for people from different countries and regions to understand the Chinese approach to human rights.  

The first chapter deals with how the CPC and the Chinese government commit themselves to respecting and protecting human rights. The second chapter contains President Xi’s speeches, comments, congratulatory letters and instructions. Through these concrete examples, readers can have a clear understanding of how Chinese sought a path that suits national context. The third chapter presents the people-centered approach. The following two chapters elaborate on rights to survival and development, the fundamental human rights, which are realized through the common prosperity initiative launched by the Chinese government, and underpinned by the principle that put people’s life, health and security front and center. The sixth chapter continues on the fronts of economy, politics, society, culture and environmental protection. The seventh chapter details President Xi’s views on how to protect human rights of groups like ethnic minorities, women and children, senior citizens and the disabled. The eighth chapter is devoted to legal matters surrounding human rights. The last chapter summarizes the contribution of the Chinese government to promoting the diversity of human civilization, and advancing human rights in the international arena.

The message conveyed by this book is clear and powerful. That is, the first and foremost right of every person is to be entitled with dignity and right to enjoy a prosperous life and continue to do so. This is the very mission of the Chinese government led by the CPC. In China, living a prosperous life is both a collective and individual pursuit. But this entitlement does not come easily to the Chinese people. Before the founding of New China, the invasion of Western powers and the corruption of Chinese feudal rule plunged China into a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society where persecution and misery were a common occurrence. It took the entire nation to fight against such oppression and tyranny to build a new country, a remarkable feat in the history of humanity.

In his congratulatory letter to Beijing Forum on Human Rights held on September 16, 2015, President Xi Jinping said, “In modern times, the Chinese people have experienced their share of suffering. We understand just how important human values, basic human rights, and personal dignity are to social development. We cherish the hard-won environment of peace and development we enjoy today. We are steadfastly following a peaceful development path, and steadfastly striving to advance the cause of human rights in China and around the world.”

For a student like me whose major is politics, this book engages my interest with its comprehensive and clear insight into the Chinese view on human rights. President Xi Jinping provides food for thought on how to understand human rights. On many occasions, he has illustrated goals to realize human rights, which he counted as a major achievement made by the CPC and Chinese government. This achievement is well-evidenced by the fact that during the past few years, the government has enabled millions of Chinese to shake off poverty, and live a prosperous life. In his book, President Xi also made comments about how to assess democracy. The assessment should be made by people, not by a handful of ill-informed outsiders. Taking a reductionist approach to assessing political systems and civilizations which are anything but self-explanatory is not democratic itself. Xi pointed out, “The Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have always respected and protected human rights. China has long been committed to applying the universality of human rights in the Chinese context. While promoting economic and social development, we have improved people’s wellbeing, promoted social fairness and justice, and strengthened the legal protections for human rights. We have worked to promote all rights-economic, social, and cultural as well as civil and political-in a holistic and balanced way and have markedly improved the protections for people’s right to subsistence and their right to development. Our efforts have enabled us to blaze a path of human rights development well-suited to our national conditions.”

People who have some insight knowledge about China’s development will never fail to notice that under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, the Chinese government has attached great importance to human rights, right to development in particular, and adopted a people-centered approach to advancing human rights in all respects. Xi explained the logical reason behind the adoption of the approach. People is the creator of history. Serving the people wholeheartedly is one of the CPC’s most important missions. He emphasized that the Party owes its source of strength to people whose will is respected. He also stressed the importance of meeting people’s needs and expectations, and enabling them to share benefits arising from economic, political, cultural, and social development, and environmental protection, and have a greater sense of happiness and security.

I believe that Xi Jinping: On Respecting and Protecting Human Rights exemplifies the nobility of a cause and maps its blueprint. The book shows that development is a relentless pursuit of human society, a very theme of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development. President Xi remarked that people’s life and health should be put first, because life is the most precious gift which is given only once. Therefore, the Chinese government has made utmost efforts to protect people’s life and security, which is also in line with the CPC’s fundamental mission.

President Xi emphasized that the state policy of ensuring equality between men and women should be adhered to, legitimate rights and interests of women and children protected, and related mechanisms improved. He highlighted the vital role of legal measures in protecting human rights. He made it clear that the major goal of practicing law-based governance is to protect people’s rights and interests in accordance with law.

The CPC has been known for its commitment to promoting people’s course, and advancing human development. This inherent attribute is clarified in Chapter 9. President Xi observed that the beauty of human civilization lies in its diverse forms, i.e. culture, institution and approach, which naturally lead to the variety of interpretations on human rights. The diversity itself has no dangerous element. What is truly dangerous is willful imposition of one’s own history, culture and social order on others. This is a toxic mentality rooted in prejudice, bias and hatred. He clarified a Chinese proposition, that is, promoting human rights through exchanges and cooperation between countries. The reason lies in the common goal of peace and development, in the shared value of justice, in universal pursuit of democracy and freedom. People around the world should take a broader view of why different civilizations prize different values. There cannot be sustainable development in the world when some countries are getting richer and richer while others languish in prolonged poverty and backwardness. Only when all countries achieve common development can there be better worldwide development. To this end, he proposed to remain open-minded, cooperate with each other, and equalize opportunities which should be shared by peoples around the world. In a word, this development path should feature fairness, openness and inclusiveness.

A theme runs through President Xi’s book is the CPC’s strong commitment to the Chinese people, and to other peoples around the world. The logic is simple enough: We humans are a community of shared future. Members of this community should respect others in their effort to promote human rights. China opposes interference in others’ internal affairs under the pretext of democracy, freedom and human rights.

In sum, this book provides an invaluable insight into how to respect and protect human rights. Readers can have a better understanding of the Chinese approach to human rights, and new perspectives on such rights.

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