- Documents on Democracy
On December 10, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, more than three-hundred Chinese citizens issued Charter 08, a document calling for a political system based on human rights and democracy. It is modeled on the famed Charter 77 signed by more than two-hundred Czech and Slovak intellectuals in 1977. Excerpts from Charter 08, translated by Human Rights in China, appear below:
This year is the hundredth year of China's Constitution, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the tenth year since China signed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A "modernization" bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the twenty-first century? [Will it] continue "modernization" under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or [will it] recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream of civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.
The monumental historic transformation in the mid-nineteenth century exposed the decay of the traditional Chinese despotic system and ushered in the most "unprecedented and cataclysmic change in several thousands of years" in all of China. The Self-strengthening Movement (c. 1861–94) sought the improvement of China's technical capacity. The defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) once more exposed the anachronism of the political system. The Hundred Day Reform touched upon institutional innovations, but was a failure in the end because of [End Page 179] the cruel suppression of the die-hard clique. On the surface, the Xinhai Revolution (1911) buried the imperial system that had lasted for more than 2,000 years and established Asia's first republic. But, limited by the historical factors determined by internal trouble and external aggression, the republican political system lasted only for an instant, and despotism quickly returned.
The failure of imitating mechanical innovation and institutional renewal prompted deep reflection among the people of the nation on the roots of this cultural sickness, which resulted in the "May 4" new culture movement under the banner of "science and democracy." Because of frequent civil wars and invasions by external enemies, the course of China's political democratization was forced to stop. The course of a constitutional government was initiated again after the victory in the War of Resistance against Japan (1937–45), but the result of the civil war between the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party caused China to sink into the abyss of the totalitarianism of the modern era. The "New China" established in 1949 is a "people's republic" in name only. In fact, it is under the "Party's dominion." The ruling power monopolizes all the political, economic, and social resources. It created a string of human-rights catastrophes such as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, June 4, and attacks on nongovernmental religious activities and on the rights-defense movement, causing tens of millions of deaths, and exacted a disastrous price from the people and the country.
The "reform and opening up" of the late twentieth century extricated China from the pervasive poverty and absolute power in the Mao Zedong era, and substantially increased private wealth and the standard of living of the masses. Individual economic freedom and social privileges were partially restored, a civil society began to grow, and the calls for human rights and political freedom among the people increased by the day. Those in power, as they were implementing economic reforms aimed at marketization and privatization, also began to move from a position of rejecting human rights to one of gradually recognizing them. In 1997 and 1998, the Chinese...