New Cultural Tradition and Human Rights
October 14,2014   By:CSHRS

DONG Zhenghua


"Cultural Tradition and Human Rights" makes a good topic. Among the multiple strands and leads in the profound traditional Chinese culture, which are related to human rights? Recent years has witnessed overseas publication of numerous monographs on the positive influence of several thoughts harbored in traditional Confucian culture on modern concepts of human rights. However, the influence on human rights by the new culture formed over the past century, especially since the May Fourth Movement, has been insufficiently dealt with. On contrast, downright derogation or even negation on the new culture campaign has been incessantly heard. Admittedly, this is the backwash of continuous "criticizing Confucius" and "breaking from the tradition" over a long period of time. However, in no way should we overlook the significant influence of new culture campaign on dissemination of human rights concepts in China and formation of Chinese human rights theory and practice. The exploration started over 100 years ago is the very origin of Chinese human rights, and an invaluable heritage left by the pioneers of modernization campaign. It remains a topic wanting further exploration to straighten out the relationship between the new cultural tradition and human rights and to draw lessons from the criticism of old traditions and cultures and introduction of contemporary human rights from the west. The thesis is an attempt.


Existent research has pointed out that, despite the early germination of human rights concept, its definitive concept is not ancient; instead, it is the result of gradual development in late Middle Ages in West Europe against the concrete historical and social conditions. Pre-modern Western traditions has many factors contributing to the rise of modern human rights concept, as well as many against it, such as religious intolerance and persecution of heresies, slavery, serfdom, bureaucratic privileges, autocratic monarchy, divine right of kings and so on. Likewise, there was no human rights concept in the traditional oriental cultures. "Uphold the ways of the heaven and eliminate mortal desires" advocated by the Confucian School, and the political culture and ethics like the three cardinal guides (i.e., ruler guides subject, father guides son and husband guides wife) and the five constant virtues (benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and fidelity) implemented by rulers of dynasties in social and political life, all made it impossible for human rights concept to germinate in pre-modern China. Instead, infestation of oppressive rights, like the authority of the monarch, the gentry, the clan and the husband. However, this doesn't mean that the cultural tradition of China is completely against human rights. For instance, the people-privilege thought, the people-orientation thought, the belief of human kindness by nature, "Don't do unto others what you don't want others do unto you." and the thought of world community--"all under heaven are one family" and etc. are all in concord with human rights.