This year's Joseph Levenson Book Prize goes to the 2021 work making "the greatest contribution to increasing understanding of the history, culture, society, politics, or economy of China."
U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, "Annual Report 2011", October 10, 2011
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The China of today is vastly different from that of 30 years ago, when major economic reforms began, and even 10 years ago, when China acceded to the World Trade Organization. More people in today’s China enjoy an improved quality of life, economic freedoms, and greater access to information via the Internet and other communication technologies. But economic and technological progress has not led to commensurate gains in China’s human rights and rule of law record.
In the areas of human rights and rule of law this year, China’s leaders have grown more assertive in their violation of rights, disregarding the very laws and international standards that they claim to uphold and tightening their grip on Chinese society. China’s leaders have done this while confidently touting their own human rights and rule of law record. This year, officials declared that China had reached a ‘‘major milestone’’ in its legal system and made ‘‘remarkable achievements’’ in carrying out its 2009–2010 National Human Rights Action Plan, asserting that ‘‘civil and political rights have been effectively protected.’’ China’s leaders no longer respond to criticism by simply denying that rights have been abused. Rather, they increasingly use the language of international law to defend their actions. According to China’s leaders, today’s China is strong and moving forward on human rights and rule of law.
Official rhetoric notwithstanding, China’s human rights and rule of law record has not improved. Indeed, as this year’s Annual Report indicates, it appears to be worsening in some areas. A troubling trend is officials’ increased willingness to disregard the law when it suits them, particularly to silence dissent. Beginning in February 2011, Chinese police took the unusual step of ‘‘disappearing’’ numerous lawyers and activists in one of the harshest crackdowns in recent memory. It was no surprise, then, that in sensitive issue areas such as China’s population planning policy, local government officials demonstrated little restraint in turning to illegal measures, including violence, to coerce compliance with a policy that itself violates international human rights standards. Lack of respect for the rule of law extended into the international arena, where China pursued domestic subsidies and industrial policies inconsistent with China’s commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization.
The Chinese government’s misuse of the law to violate fundamental human rights continued. The Commission observed officials citing the ‘‘law’’ as a basis to crack down on peaceful protests; to prevent Buddhists, Catholics, Falun Gong practitioners, Muslims, Protestants, and Taoists from freely practicing their beliefs; to prevent Tibetans, Uyghurs, and other ethnic minorities from exercising autonomy despite guarantees in Chinese law; to prevent workers from independently organizing; and to clamp down on civil society organizations. The Communist Party tightened its grip at all levels of society, stepping up monitoring of citizens and social groups and stifling attempts at independent political participation and advocacy for democracy. Along with negative developments, there have been some hopeful signs, notably at the grassroots level. The Commission observed the courage of citizens calling for justice, as when daring journalists and millions of Internet users outmaneuvered censors to raise questions about the government’s response to a high-speed rail crash, or when members of the Shouwang Church openly defied the government to hold outdoor worship services in Beijing. The Commission also continued to observe well-intentioned officials and individuals seeking to bring about positive changes within the system.Such actions testify to the Chinese people’s desire for a just society and their willingness to be productive partners in pursuit of that aim.
Human rights and rule of law developments in China are important to the rest of the world. The rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion are universal and transcend borders. These rights are provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, two documents that China has publicly supported. When the Chinese government and Communist Party deny these rights, as when they censor the press and Internet and restrict access to courts, citizens worldwide—not just in China—know less about issues such as poisoned food, unsafe products, natural and man-made disasters, and infectious disease, and have less recourse to hold officials accountable. Moreover, the Chinese government’s respect for human rights and rule of law domestically serves as an important barometer for China’s compliance and cooperation internationally, from trade agreements to issues of common global concern. Finally, as recent years have shown, China’s increasing confidence in and defense of its human rights record risk setting negative precedents for other countries and reshaping international human rights standards to allow for China’s abuses. China’s strident justification this past year of its imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and the refusal of some governments to send representatives to the Nobel ceremony, exemplify this trend.
This is the Commission’s 10th Annual Report on China’s human rights and rule of law developments. As in the past, the Commission has assessed the Chinese government’s record on the basis of China’s own Constitution and laws and international human rights standards, relying on research based in large part on reports and articles published in China. As Commission research has shown this past year, Chinese officials continue to deny Chinese citizens their rights in order to preserve the Communist Party’s notion of political stability and harmony. China’s stability is in the United
States’ best interest, but the Commission believes that stability will not result from repressing rights for perceived short-term gain, but only by ensuring and protecting the rights of all Chinese citizens.
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