Emphasis on Personality Dignity: New Strategic Development of China's Human Rights Cause
October 14,2014   By:CSHRS

Chang Jian   Zhao Yulin

China is building a well-off society in an all-round way, which requires more comprehensive protection of human rights from this particular perspective. It is in this sense that Premier Wen Jiabao has proposed to ensure that "the Chinese people live a life with more dignity", which can be interpreted as appeal and request for more comprehensive protection of human rights. It suggests that the cause of human rights in China is entering a new stage of strategic development.

I. The Dual-meaning of Dignity: Hierarchical Dignity and Personality Dignity
Personality dignity is an important concept in human rights protection. The philosophy of "fundamental human rights, personality dignity and value" is stressed in the very beginning of the preamble of the United Nation Charter . But the word "dignity" has two different meanings which must be clarified for the discussion of the relationship between dignity and human rights.

In traditional culture, the word "dignity" is closely associated with order, hierarchy, privilege, taboo and other factors. According to the research done by Han Deqiang, in Chinese language, the word "dignity" (Zun Yan) consists of two characters--"Zun" (respect) and "Yan" (majesty). "Zun" inherits the shape of the character carved on tortoise shells in ancient China, referring to ancient wine containers. Back in ancient China, only emperors, generals, ministers, high officials and other nobles of high status and positions were eligible to use a "Zun" to worship gods or contain wine. Therefore, all the words and phrases derived from "Zun" primarily refer to nobility, dignified silence, sublimity, and supreme power, opposed to the Chinese character "Bei" (humility). The character "Yan" (majesty) came into being relatively later and appeared more frequently until early Shang Dynasty. It mainly refers to authority, prestige, and solemnity. Sometimes, it is also used as a respectful term of address for father or someone from an older generation. With the two characters combined together, the word "Zun Yan" (dignity) generally refers to noble or respectable status and identity, inviolable, impressive and majestic bearing and manner, as well as lofty and solemn spirit. The word is simply defined as inviolable solemn dignity. In western languages, "Zun Yan" corresponds to "dignity" in English, "dignité" in French and "dignitat" in German, all derived from the ancient Latin word "dignitas", sharing the same root with "dignus" (valuable, worthy) in ancient French. The direct meaning of this root is manipulation, control, possession of territory, property or power, and its extended meaning is something inviolable, dignified, and distinguished. It can be seen, be it in traditional Chinese or Western language context, the word "Zun Yan" (dignity) is deeply imprinted with hierarchical order. It is in this sense that Han Deqiang put forward the concept of "order dignity" in his doctoral thesis and distinguished it from the concepts of "human dignity" and "personality dignity". According to his interpretation, "order dignity" refers to "inviolable, in-profaned and unsurpassable social status, group authority and state of living possessed by people based on certain social orders or rules and certain human attributes or ethical taboos". "Human dignity" refers to "the dignity inherent in humanity that defines people as human beings", which is simply based on the fact of people's existence, independent from people's identity, background, wealth, status, power and other social hierarchical factors as well as the differences of individual human beings. "Personality dignity", however, as "the sublimation of human dignity", refers to human dignity in legal sense.