An important theoretical article published on June 15 highlighted once again that Xi uses “human rights” with a different meaning from the rest of the world.
by Massimo Introvigné
It took nearly four months for the lecture on human rights delivered by Xi Jinping at the thirty-seventh collective study session of the Political Bureau of the XIX Central Committee to be published in the Qiushi, the official ideological magazine. of the CCP. The lecture was delivered on February 25 and its text was published in the Qiushi on June 15. This would normally indicate that the text has been carefully polished, perhaps by Xi himself.
There is nothing new in Xi’s assertion that there is no universal notion of human rights; that each country has the right to define “human rights” as it sees fit; and that the West claims to impose under the false idea of “universal” human rights its own bourgeois conception of these rights.
What is relatively new and interesting is the genealogy of the “excellent” Chinese notion of human rights that Xi presented in the lecture. In fact, this genealogy is nothing short of extraordinary. The Chinese president mentioned six ancestors of this notion: Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Mozi, Marx and Engels. The four Chinese philosophers, none of whom have ever used the expression “human rights”, are mobilized through quotations attributing to them the idea that a good government must “love the people” and be “oriented towards the people”.
They are presented as part of an unbroken chain, when in fact Mencius and Xunzi had fundamental disagreements about human nature, Xunzi and his followers supported authoritarian forms of government far removed from any meaningful notion of “rights of man”, and Mozi was an opponent of the Confucians rather than their supporter. It is only possible to keep them together by quoting platitudes about their “love of the people”, without delving into their respective philosophies.
It is well known that Xi is a reader of Chinese classics, and his strange potpourri of irreconcilable philosophers cannot be attributed to ignorance. It is an ideological statement, emphasizing Xi’s pet theory that there is a unified “traditional Chinese culture”, the notion of which is based on a reconstruction of Confucius’ ideas that derives not from academic science but the needs of the CCP.
According to Xi, an element of “love for the people” was not absent from the early European theories of human rights elaborated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment and proclaimed by the governments emerging from the bourgeois revolutions. However, “Marx and Engels affirmed the historical and progressive significance of the bourgeois theory of human rights, and at the same time thoroughly criticized the social, historical and class nature of their denial of human rights” .
Marx and Engels, Xi argues, unmasked the contradiction of the European bourgeoisie, which on the one hand was able to craft a progressive theory of human rights but on the other hand did not guarantee genuine human rights to proletarians.
Obviously, a new theory of human rights was needed. The communist parties worked on it. However, Xi believes that only the Chinese Communist Party has been able to construct a synthesis between Confucian “love of the people” and Marxist theory.
Western human rights theory and practice, according to Xi, only continue the hypocrisy and contradictions exposed by Marx and Engels. The other communist regimes haven’t really solved the problem. China did it, because it knew how to reconcile Marxism and Confucianism. “We have combined the Marxist concept of human rights with the concrete reality of China and the excellent traditional Chinese culture,” Xi proclaims.
But where is the difference in practice? Xi responds that the CCP’s idea of human rights “makes the right to subsistence and the right to development the first priority.” The Western notion of human rights perpetuates the bourgeois contradiction of the 19th century by creating a hierarchy of rights that places freedom of thought, expression, association, political participation and religion at the top. By doing this, Xi argues, the false Western notion of human rights protects the rich and ignores the fact that the poor must first survive and escape poverty.
On the contrary, the CCP regards survival and freedom from poverty as the main human rights. He is prepared to deny what the West sees as other basic human rights if they become obstacles in the struggle to eradicate poverty and build a socialist society.
Xi explains that the fight against poverty can only be won if everyone “supports the CCP leadership”. “The CCP leadership and the socialist system in my country determine the socialist nature of China’s notion of human rights,” Xi wrote. Obviously, the need to obey the CCP unconditionally implies that other (bourgeois) human rights can be bracketed or suspended if they are not consistent with this need.
Xi cites the fight against COVID-19 as an example of the superiority of China’s notion of human rights. Subsistence is the first human right, and it includes the right to be protected from the virus and not to die. As we know, Xi believes that this right can only be guaranteed by the so-called Zero COVID policy. But imposing a Zero COVID policy is impossible if one prioritizes human rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and protest. Due to its inferior notion of human rights, the West has fallen into an epidemic “out of control”, Xi claims, unlike China which has controlled it.
Paradoxically, Xi concludes, the West continues to refer to ‘universal human rights’ and that ‘human rights are superior to sovereignty’, interfering in the internal affairs of China and others. country – when in fact Xi is confident China’s superior notion of human rights has proven its virtues in the COVID crisis.