Chinese Conceptions of “Rights”: From Mencius to Mao–and Now

Elizabeth has written the above-titled article, which has been published in the most recent issue of Perspectives on Politics. I will be adding this to the readings under the topic of democracy. I’ll adjust the syllabus on Blackboard accordingly and provide an electronic link to the full-text article on the electronic version of the syllabus. You can also link to the article here. [Updated: The link doesn’t work; go to Blackboard for the link.]

We will address the implications of “Asian values” for democracy and seek to understand the moral underpinnings of Chinses society (remember that we are not equating “Asian” with Chinese; Asia is a vast and heterogeneous continent), and whether western conceptions of democracy and human rights are necessary. How is political authority legitimized in Chinese society, according to Mencius, Confucius, and Mao? Here is the abstract to Perry’s article:

The recent explosion of popular protest in China, often framed as a demand for the fulfillment of “rights,” has captured widespread attention. Some observers interpret the protests as signs of a “moral vacuum.” Others see the unrest as signaling a powerful new “rights consciousness.” In either case, the protests are often regarded as a major challenge to the stability of the political system. In this article, an examination of Chinese conceptions of “rights,” as reflected in the ethical discourses of philosophers, political leaders, and protesters (and as contrasted with American understandings of rights), provides the basis for questioning prevailing assumptions about the fragility of the Chinese political order. For over two millennia, Chinese political thought, policy, and protest have assigned central priority to the attainment of socioeconomic security. As a result, the meaning of “rights” inChinese political discourse differs significantly from the Anglo-American tradition. Viewed in historical context, China’s contemporary “rights” protests seem less politically threatening. The Chinese polity appears neither as vacuous nor as vulnerable as it is sometimes assumed to be.

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