Debating Human Rights in China: A Conceptual and Political History

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9780742516960: Debating Human Rights in China: A Conceptual and Political History

Tracing the concept of human rights in Chinese political discourse since the late Qing dynasty, this comprehensive history convincingly demonstrates that?contrary to conventional wisdom?there has been a vibrant debate on human rights throughout the twentieth century. Drawing on little-known sources, Marina Svensson argues that the concept of human rights was invoked by the Chinese people well before the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and that it has continued to have strong appeal after 1949, both in Taiwan and on the mainland. These largely forgotten debates provide important perspectives on and contrasts to the official PRC line. The author gives particular attention to the issues of power and agency in describing the widely divergent views of official spokespersons, establishment intellectuals, and dissidents. Until quite recently the PRC dismissed human rights as a bourgeois slogan. Yet the globalization of human rights and the growing importance of the issue in bilateral and multilateral relations have forced the regime to embrace, or rather appropriate, the language of human rights, an appropriation that continues to be vigorously challenged by dissidents at home and abroad. By exploring the relationship between domestic and international human rights discourses, this study offers new insights not only into the Chinese but also into the Western human rights debate. Students and scholars of China and of human rights will find this work an important tool for understanding one of the great issues of our time.

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About the Author:

Marina Svensson is assistant professor in the Department of East Asian Languages, Lund University. She is the coeditor of The Chinese Human Rights Reader.

Review:

This study demonstrates the diversity of perspectives on the existence and scope of human rights in China from the end of the Qing dynasty to the present....Highly recommended . (CHOICE)

Well-written. Svensson is thoroughly steeped in the Chinese-language literature on the subject and has found an astonishing amount of material. The book is so comprehensive that it will doubtless stand as the definitive work until conditions in China change. (The China Journal)

[Provides] engaging and provocative materials for anyone interested in human rights and in social, political, and cultural transformations in China....[A] rich and contested discourse woven together sensibly and intelligently....[A] friendly textbook for instructors and students of Chinese political culture. (China Quarterly)

Marina Svensson has written a sophisticated, nuanced, complex history of human rights discource in China in the twentieth century. As she has argued and proven with her in-depth research, human rights discourse is not alien to China. (Journal of Asian Studies)

The book is rich in details, comprehensive in scope and careful in its exposition. It also has a superb bibliography of the writings of Chinese intellectuals since the early twentieth century. The book is a very good guide for anyone who wants to understand Chinese rights thinking in the past century. (Political Studies Review)

Marina Svensson takes a topic about which much has been written and turns it inside out in fascinating and unexpected ways through careful readings of a range of important yet often overlooked Chinese documents. The end result is a sophisticated study that illuminates the complex process by which visions of freedom and cultural traditions can clash, intersect, and reshape one another. (Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, University of California, Irvine; author of China's Brave New World?And Other Tales for Global Times)

Svensson is the ideal person to write this history. Although she is an excellent scholar, she is more than that. As she puts it, 'In my case, human rights activism came first and academic work only later' (p. xii). As a result, her book is imbued with passion, while at the same time characterized by a meticulous regard for the evidence. (Pacific Affairs)

Marina Svensson has crafted an analytical history tracing the political and conceptual journey of the idea of human rights. (China Rights Forum)

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