China's Human Rights: Tiananmen



As we approach the 25-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, join Active Minds as we look at how modern China continues to struggle with the balance between authoritarian government and basic human rights.  We will highlight the ways in which Chinese society is restricted as we peer through the lens of American freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

Key Lecture Points

  • 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre wherein hundreds of protesters calling for political liberalization in China were killed and thousands were arrested and imprisoned.
  • The issue of human rights in China continues to be of global interest and concern. Notwithstanding recent legal, social, and economic advances in China, the government of China maintains many policies that amount to repression and abuse of individual citizens of the world’s largest country.
  • The U.S. State Department's 2013 Human Rights Practices and 2012 International Religious Freedom Report noted that “Repression and coercion, particularly against organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy and public interest issues, ethnic minorities, and law firms that took on sensitive cases, were routine. Increasingly officials employed harassment, intimidation, and prosecution of family members and associates to retaliate against rights advocates and defenders. Individuals and groups seen as politically sensitive by authorities continued to face tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel.”
  • The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has a complicated recent history that has sought to maintain and encourage a single party state while simultaneously opening itself up economically and competing in a world market that frequently works from a different ideological viewpoint. In addition, the country’s history of both political unrest and political suppression has sharply illustrated the often brutal nature by which the government maintains control.
  • China continues to practice policies of population limitation, which has resulted in a significant gender imbalance within the country, among many other social issues. In addition, in the information age, the Chinese government has maintained and tightened its grip over the flow of information over the internet.

Exploration Questions

  • Do you feel that there have been any benefits to China as a whole when it comes to the tight control that government tries to maintain over society?
  • Consider if China had not initially adapted the Soviet communist system or had eventually adopted a different economic system, such as the one the U.S. and many European countries hold. How do you think the history of China would have changed?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever been to China? What was your impression? Does it fit with what you’ve learned here?
  • What did you think of the China presented through the lens of the 2008 Olympics? Do you feel it was an accurate portrayal of Chinese life?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Worden, Minky. China's Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges. Seven Stories Press, 2008. 330 pages. Illuminates China's recent history and outlines how domestic and international pressures in the context of the Olympics could achieve human rights change.
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  • Svensson, Marina. Debating Human Rights in China: A Conceptual and Political History. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002. 400 pages. Tracing the concept of human rights in Chinese political discourse since the late Qing dynasty, this comprehensive history convincingly demonstrates that--contrary to conventional wisdom--there has been a vibrant debate on human rights throughout the twentieth century.
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