Human rights in China

"Human Rights in China" redirects here. For the non-governmental organization, see Human Rights in China (organization).

Human rights in China are a highly contested topic, on which the government of the People's Republic of China and its supporters, on the one hand, and critics and human rights organizations, on the other, have starkly different views. PRC authorities, their supporters, and other proponents claim that existing policies and enforcement measures are sufficient to guard against human rights abuses. However, other countries and their authorities (such as the United States Department of State, Canada, among others), international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights in China and Amnesty International, and citizens, lawyers, and dissidents inside the country, state that the authorities in mainland China regularly sanction or organize such abuses.

NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as foreign governmental institutions such as the U.S. State Department, regularly present evidence of the PRC of violating the freedoms of speech, movement, and religion of its citizens and of others within its jurisdiction. Authorities in the PRC claim to define human rights differently, so as to include economic and social as well as political rights, all in relation to "national culture" and the level of development of the country.[1] Authorities in the PRC, referring to this definition, claim that human rights are being improved.[2] They do not, however, use the definition used by most countries and organisations. PRC politicians have repeatedly maintained that, according to the PRC Constitution, the "Four Cardinal Principles" supersede citizenship rights. PRC officials interpret the primacy of the Four Cardinal Principles as a legal basis for the arrest of people who the government says seek to overthrow the principles. Chinese nationals whom authorities perceive to be in compliance with these principles, on the other hand, are permitted by the PRC authorities to enjoy and exercise all the rights that come with citizenship of the PRC, provided they do not violate PRC laws in any other manner.

Numerous human rights groups have publicized human rights issues in China that they consider the government to be mishandling, including: the death penalty (capital punishment), the one-child policy (which China had made exceptions for ethnic minorities prior to abolishing it in 2015), the political and legal status of Tibet, and neglect of freedom of the press in mainland China. Other areas of concern include the lack of legal recognition of human rights and the lack of an independent judiciary, rule of law, and due process. Further issues raised in regard to human rights include the severe lack of worker's rights (in particular the hukou system which restricts migrant labourers' freedom of movement), the absence of independent labour unions (which have since been changing[3]), and allegations of discrimination against rural workers and ethnic minorities, as well as the lack of religious freedom  rights groups have highlighted repression of the Christian,[4][5][6][7][8][9] Tibetan Buddhist, and Falun Gong religious groups. Some Chinese activist groups are trying to expand these freedoms, including Human Rights in China, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. Chinese human rights attorneys who take on cases related to these issues, however, often face harassment, disbarment, and arrest.[10][11]

Since the legal reforms of the late 1970s and 1980s, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has officially moved to embrace the language of the rule of law and to establish a modern court system. In the process, it has enacted thousands of new laws and regulations, and has begun training more legal professionals.[10] The concept of 'rule of law' has been emphasized in the constitution, and the ruling party has embarked on campaigns to promote the idea that citizens have protection under the law. At the same time, however, a fundamental contradiction exists in the constitution itself, in which the Communist Party insists that its authority supersedes that of the law.[12] Thus, the constitution enshrines the rule of law, yet simultaneously stresses the principle that the 'leadership of the Communist Party' holds primacy over the law.

The judiciary is not independent of the Communist Party, and judges face political pressure; in many instances, private party committees dictate the outcome of cases.[13] In this way, the CPC effectively controls the judiciary through its influence.[10] This influence has produced a system often described as 'rule by law' (alluding to the CPC's power), rather than rule of law.[14] Moreover, the legal system lacks protections for civil rights, and often fails to uphold due process.[15]


Foreign experts estimate that in 2000, there were between 1.5 million and 4 million people in prison in China. China does not allow outsiders to inspect the penal system.[16]

Civil liberties

Freedom of speech

Although the 1982 constitution guarantees freedom of speech,[17] the Chinese government often uses the "subversion of state power" and "protection of state secrets" clauses in their law system to imprison those who are critical of the government.[18]

During the 2008 Summer Olympics, the government promised to issue permits authorizing people to protest in specifically designated "protest parks" in Beijing.[19] However, a majority of the applications were withdrawn, suspended, or vetoed,[20] and the police detained some of the people who applied.[21]

References to certain controversial events and political movements, as well as access to web pages considered by the PRC authorities to be "dangerous" or "threatening to state security", are blocked on the internet in the PRC; and content disputed by or critical of PRC authorities is absent from many publications, and subject to the control of the CPC within mainland China.[22] Laws in the People's Republic of China forbid the advocacy of separation of any part of its claimed territory from mainland China, or public challenge to the CPC's domination of the government of China. An unsanctioned protest during the Olympics by seven foreign activists at the China Nationalities Museum, protesting for a free Tibet and blocking the entrance, was cleared[23] and the protesters deported.[24]

Foreign Internet search engines including Microsoft Bing, Yahoo!, and Google China have come under criticism for aiding these practices. Yahoo!, in particular, stated that it will not protect the privacy and confidentiality of its Chinese customers from the authorities.[25]

In 2005, after Yahoo! China provided his personal emails and IP addresses to the Chinese government, reporter Shi Tao was sentenced to imprisonment for ten years for releasing an internal Communist Party document to an overseas Chinese democracy site.[26] Skype president Josh Silverman said it was "common knowledge" that TOM Online had "established procedures to...block instant messages containing certain words deemed offensive by the Chinese authorities".[27]

Freedom of the press

Critics argue that the CPC has failed to live up to its promises about the freedom of the mainland Chinese media. Freedom House consistently ranks China as 'Not Free'[28][29] in its annual press freedom survey, including the 2014 report. PRC journalist He Qinglian says that the PRC's media are controlled by directives from the Communist Party's propaganda department, and are subjected to intense monitoring which threatens punishment for violators, rather than to pre-publication censorship.[30] In 2008, ITV News reporter John Ray was arrested while covering a 'Free Tibet' protest.[23][31] International media coverage of Tibetan protests only a few months before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 triggered a strong reaction inside China. Chinese media practitioners took the opportunity to argue with propaganda authorities for more media freedom:[32] one journalist asked, 'If not even Chinese journalists are allowed to report about the problems in Tibet, how can foreign journalists know about the Chinese perspective about the events?'[33] Foreign journalists also reported that their access to certain websites, including those of human rights organizations, was restricted.[34][35] International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge stated at the end of the 2008 Olympic Games that 'The regulations [governing foreign media freedom during the Olympics] might not be perfect but they are a sea-change compared to the situation before. We hope that they will continue.'[36] The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement during the Olympics that 'despite welcome progress in terms of accessibility and the number of press conferences within the Olympic facilities, the FCCC has been alarmed at the use of violence, intimidation and harassment outside. The club has confirmed more than 30 cases of reporting interference since the formal opening of the Olympic media centre on 25 July, and is checking at least 20 other reported incidents.'[37]

Since the Chinese state continues to exert a considerable amount of control over media, public support for domestic reporting has come as a surprise to many observers.[32] Not much is known about the extent to which the Chinese citizenry believe the official statements of the CPC, nor about which media sources they perceive as credible and why. So far, research on the media in China has focused on the changing relationship between media outlets and the state during the reform era.[32] Nor is much known about how China's changing media environment has affected the government's ability to persuade media audiences.[32] Research on political trust reveals that exposure to the media correlates positively with support for the government in some instances, and negatively in others. The research has been cited as evidence that the Chinese public believes propaganda transmitted to them through the news media, but also that they disbelieve it.[38][39] These contradictory results can be explained by realizing that ordinary citizens consider media sources to be credible to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the extent to which media outlets have undergone reform.[32]

In 2012 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Chinese government to lift restrictions on media access to the region and allow independent and impartial monitors to visit and assess conditions in Tibet.[40] The Chinese government did not change its position.

Freedom of the internet

More than sixty Internet regulations exist in China and serve to monitor and control internet publication. These policies are implemented by provincial branches of state-owned Internet service providers, companies, and organizations.[41][42] The apparatus of China's Internet control is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world. The Golden Shield includes the ability to monitor online chatting services and mail, identifying IPs and all of the person's previous communication, and then being able to lock in on the person's location—because a person will usually use the computer at home or at work – which enables the arrest to be carried out.[43] Amnesty International notes that China "has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world"[44] and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders stated in 2010 and 2012 that "China is the world's biggest prison for netizens."[45][46]

As an example of the censorship, in 2013, 24 years after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, online searches for the term 'Tiananmen Square' were still censored by Chinese authorities.[47]

Freedom of movement

For more details on this topic, see Hukou system.

The Communist Party came to power in the late 1940s and instituted a command economy. In 1958, Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Communist Party of China, created a residency permit system defining where people could work, and classified workers as rural or urban.[48][49][50] In this system, a worker seeking to move from the country to an urban area to take up non-agricultural work would have to apply through the relevant bureaucratic institutions. There is uncertainty, however, over how strictly the system has been enforced. People who worked outside the region in which they were registered would not qualify for grain rations, employer-provided housing, or health care.[49] There were controls over education, employment, marriage and other areas of life.[48] One reason cited for instituting this system was to prevent the possible chaos caused by predictable large-scale urbanization.[51] As a part of the one country, two systems policy proposed by Deng Xiaoping and accepted by the British and Portuguese governments, the special administrative regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macau retained separate border control and immigration policies with the rest of the PRC. Chinese nationals had to gain permission from the government before travelling to Hong Kong or Macau, but this requirement was officially abolished for each SAR after its respective handover. Since then, restrictions imposed by the SAR governments have been the limiting factor on travel.

The Washington Times reported in 2000 that although migrant labourers play a major role in spreading wealth in Chinese villages, they are treated 'like second-class citizens by a system so discriminatory that it has been likened to apartheid.'[52] Anita Chan also posits that China's household registration and temporary residence permit system has created a situation analogous to the passbook system in South Africa which was implemented to control the supply and actions of cheap labourers[53] from underprivileged ethnic groups, as well as to control the quality and quantity of such labourers. In 2000, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy alleged that people of Han descent in Tibet have a far easier time acquiring the necessary permits to live in urban areas than ethnic Tibetans do.[54]

Abolition of this policy has been proposed in 11 provinces, mainly along the developed eastern coast. After a widely publicised incident in 2003, when a university-educated migrant died in Guangdong province, the law was changed to eliminate the possibility of summary arrest for migrant laborers. The Beijing law lecturer who exposed the incident said it spelt the end of the hukou system: he believed that in most smaller cities, the system had been abandoned, and had 'almost lost its function' in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai.[55]

Treatment of rural workers

In November 2005, Jiang Wenran, acting director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said that the hukou system was one of the most strictly enforced apartheid structures in modern world history.[56] He stated, 'Urban dwellers enjoy a range of social, economic and cultural benefits while peasants, the majority of the Chinese population, are treated as second-class citizens.'[56]

The discrimination enforced by the hukou system became particularly onerous in the 1980s after hundreds of millions of migrant workers were forced out of state corporations, co-operatives and other institutions.[57] Attempts by workers classified as rural to move to urban centers were tightly controlled by the Chinese bureaucracy, which enforced its control by denying access to essential goods and services such as grain rations, housing, and health care,[49] and by regularly closing down migrant workers' private schools.[57] The hukou system also enforced pass laws similar to those in South Africa.[48][49][50][53][53][58][59][60] Rural workers required six passes to work in provinces other than their own,[57] and periodic police raids rounded up those without permits, placed them in detention centers, and deported them.[58] As in South Africa, the restrictions placed on the mobility of migrant workers were pervasive,[57] and transient workers were forced to live a precarious existence in company dormitories or shanty towns, suffering abusive consequences.[53] Anita Chan comments further that China's household registration and temporary residence permit system has created a situation analogous to the passbook system in apartheid South Africa, which were designed to regulate the supply of cheap labor.

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security has justified these practices on the grounds that they have assisted the police in tracking down criminals and maintaining public order, and provided demographic data for government planning and programs.[61]

Freedom of association

China does not allow freedom of association in general; in particular, it does not allow a free choice of membership with trade unions and political parties. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), articles 20 and 23, every worker has the right to join an association of their choosing, to have their interests represented against their employer, and to take collective action including the right to strike. In China, on a model similar to the Deutsche Arbeitsfront from 1934 to 1945 in Germany, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions has a monopoly on union activity: it is effectively a nationalised organisation. This dynamic violates International Labour Organisation Conventions Number 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The leadership of the ACFTU is not freely elected by its members, and it is not independent from the state or employers.

The CPC effectively monopolises organised political activity in China. There is, therefore, no possibility of genuine electoral competition at any level of government, nor within the Party itself. This violates the UDHR article 21(1), which states, 'Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.'

Religious freedom

During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), particularly the Destruction of Four Olds campaign, religious affairs of all types were persecuted and discouraged by Chairman Mao Zedong's government and ideological allies. Many religious buildings were looted or destroyed. Since then, there have been efforts to repair, reconstruct and protect historical and cultural religious sites.[62] In its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013, the US Department of State criticized China as follows:

The government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom fell well short of its international human rights commitments. (...) The government harassed, detained, arrested, or sentenced to prison a number of religious adherents for activities reported to be related to their religious beliefs and practices. These activities included assembling for religious worship, expressing religious beliefs in public and in private, and publishing religious texts. There were also reports of physical abuse and torture in detention.[63]

The 1982 Constitution provides its citizens the right to believe in any religion, as well as the right to refrain from doing so:

Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organization, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.[64]

Members of the Communist Party are officially required to be atheists,[65] but this rule is not regularly enforced and many party members privately engage in religious activities.[66]


The Chinese government tries to maintain tight control over all organized religion, including Christianity. The only legal Christian groups, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, are under the Communist Party's control. The members of the illegal, underground Catholic church true to the Pope and members of Protestant house churches face prosecution from PRC authorities.[67] [68]

In 2007, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association elected a Catholic bishop of Beijing to replace the deceased Fu Tieshan.[69] The standard Catholic practice is for a bishop to be appointed by the Pope;[70] the Catholic Church does not recognize the legitimacy of bishops elected by the Association, but not appointed by the Pope.[71] According to Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church in particular is viewed in China as a foreign power. Its situation is somewhat analogous to that of the Catholic Church in Post-Reformation England, in which the official church was also controlled by the state.[67][72]

Tibetan Buddhism

The Dalai Lama is a highly influential figure in Tibetan Buddhism, who has traditionally lived in Tibet. Because of Chinese governmental control over the Tibetan area, the current Dalai Lama resides in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, in the Republic of India. In a regulation promulgated 3 August 2007, the Chinese government declared that after 1 September 2007, "[no] living Buddha [may be reincarnated] without government approval, since the Qing dynasty, when the live Buddha system was established."[73] The PRC Government-appointed Panchen Lama is labelled a fake[74] by those who regard the PRC's effort to control organised religion as contradictory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other ethical principles.

Examples of the political controls exercised over religion in 1998 include:[75]

Monks celebrating the reception of the US Congressional Gold Medal[76] by the Dalai Lama have been detained by the PRC.[77] In November 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner urged China to address the allegations of rights violations in Tibet; the violations had led to an alarming escalation of 'desperate' forms of protest in the region, including self-immolations.[40]

Falun Gong

Gao Rongrong, a Falun Gong practitioner, was allegedly tortured in custody in 2005.[78]

Following a period of meteoric growth of Falun Gong in the 1990s, the Communist Party banned Falun Gong on 20 July 1999. An extra-constitutional body called the 6-10 Office was created to lead the suppression of Falun Gong.[79] The authorities mobilized the state media apparatus, judiciary, police, army, the education system, families and workplaces against the group.[80] The campaign is driven by large-scale propaganda through television, newspaper, radio and internet.[81] There are reports of systematic torture,[82][83] illegal imprisonment, forced labor, organ harvesting[84] and abusive psychiatric measures, with the apparent aim of forcing practitioners to recant their belief in Falun Gong.[85]

Foreign observers estimate that hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained in "re-education through labor" camps, prisons and other detention facilities for refusing to renounce the spiritual practice.[79][86] Former prisoners have reported that Falun Gong practitioners consistently received "the longest sentences and worst treatment" in labor camps, and in some facilities Falun Gong practitioners formed the substantial majority of detainees.[87][88] As of 2009 at least 2,000 Falun Gong adherents had been tortured to death in the persecution campaign,[89] with some observers putting the number much higher.[90]

Some international observers and judicial authorities have described the campaign against Falun Gong as a genocide.[91][92] In 2009, courts in Spain and Argentina indicted senior Chinese officials for genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in orchestrating the suppression of Falun Gong.[93][94][95]

Organ harvesting

In 2006 allegations emerged that the vital organs of non-consenting Falun Gong practitioners had been used to supply China's organ tourism industry.[84][96] In 2008, two United Nations Special Rapporteurs reiterated their requests for "the Chinese government to fully explain the allegation of taking vital organs from Falun Gong practitioners and the source of organs for the sudden increase in organ transplants that has been going on in China since the year 2000".[97]

Matas and Kilgour, and Gutmann have, between them, published three books alleging organ harvesting in China.[90][98][99] The Kilgour-Matas report[84][100][101] stated, "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six-year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained" and "we believe that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners".[84] Ethan Gutmann, who interviewed over 100 individuals as witnesses, estimated that 65,000 Falun Gong prisoners were killed for their organs from 2000 to 2008.[90][102][103][104]

Political freedom

The People's Republic of China is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but has not ratified it. Legally, all citizens of the People's Republic of China who have reached the age of 18 have the right to vote and stand for election, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, occupation, family background, religious belief, education, property status, or length of residence, except for persons deprived of political rights according to laws imposed by CPC regulations.

In Mao's China, the CPC openly repressed all opposing political groups. This behaviour is now reflected in the judicial system, and has evolved into the selective repression of small groups of people who overtly challenge the CPC's power[105] or its people's democratic dictatorship. The most recent major movement advocating for political freedom was obliterated through the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the estimated death toll of which ranges from about 200 to 10,000 depending on sources.[106][107] In November 1992, 192 Chinese political activists and democracy advocates submitted a petition to the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China to introduce political reforms. One of the six demands was the ratification of the Covenant. As a reaction to the petition, the Chinese authorities arrested Zhao Changqing, proponent of the petition, and are still holding a number of activists for attempted subversion.

One of the most famous dissidents is Zhang Zhixin, who is known for standing up against the ultra-left.[108]

In October 2008, the government denounced the European Parliament's decision to award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to political prisoner Hu Jia, maintaining that it was 'gross interference in China's domestic affairs' to give such an award to a 'jailed criminal.. in disregard of [the Chinese government's] repeated representations.'[109]

Although the Chinese government does not violate its people's privacy as much or as overtly as it used to,[110] it still deems it necessary to keep track of what people say in public. Internet forums are strictly monitored, as are international postal mail (which sometimes is inexplicably delayed, or simply disappears) and e-mail.[111]

Local officials are chosen by election, and even though non-Communist Party candidates are allowed to stand, those with dissident views can face arbitrary exclusion from the ballot, interference with campaigning, and even detention.[112]

Freedom House rates China as a 6 (the second lowest possible rank) in political freedoms. In 2011, the organization said of the Chinese political leadership:

With a sensitive change of leadership approaching in 2012 and popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes occurring across the Middle East, the ruling Chinese Communist Party showed no signs of loosening its grip on power in 2011. Despite minor legal improvements regarding the death penalty and urban property confiscation, the government stalled or even reversed previous reforms related to the rule of law, while security forces resorted to extralegal forms of repression. Growing public frustration over corruption and injustice fueled tens of thousands of protests and several large outbursts of online criticism during the year. The party responded by committing more resources to internal security forces and intelligence agencies, engaging in the systematic enforced disappearance of dozens of human rights lawyers and bloggers, and enhancing controls over online social media.[113]

One-child policy

Main article: One-child policy
Government sign stating: 'For a prosperous, powerful nation and a happy family, please use birth planning.'

China's birth control policy, known widely as the one-child policy, was implemented in 1979 by chairman Mao Zedong's government to alleviate the overpopulation problem. Having more than one child was illegal and punishable by fines. This policy has began to be phased out, beginning in 2015.[114] Voice of America cites critics who argue that the policy contributes to forced abortions, human rights violations, female infanticide, abandonment and sex-selective abortions, which are believed to be relatively commonplace in some areas of the country.[115] Sex-selective abortions are thought to have been a significant contribution to the gender imbalance in mainland China, where there is a 118:100 ratio of male to female children reported.[116][117][118] Forced abortions and sterilizations have also been reported.[119][120]

It has also been argued that the one-child policy is not effective enough to justify its costs, and that external factors caused a dramatic decrease in Chinese fertility rates to begin even before 1979. The policy seems to have had little impact on rural areas (home to about 80% of the population), where birth rates never dropped below 2.5 children per female.[121] Nevertheless, the Chinese government and others estimate that at least 250 million births have been prevented by the policy.[122]

The policy was generally not enforced in rural areas of the country even before this amendment. It has also been relaxed in urban areas, allowing people to have two children.[123]

Chinese state-run media reported on 3 June 2013 that the city of Wuhan is considering legislation to fine women who have children out of wedlock, or with men married to other women. The fine is considered a 'social compensation fee', and has been sharply criticized for potentially exacerbating the problem of abandoned children.[124]

Executions (death penalty/capital punishment)

According to Amnesty International, throughout the 1990s more people were executed or sentenced to death in China than in the rest of the world put together.[16]

The death penalty in mainland China is officially administered only to offenders of serious and violent crimes, such as aggravated murder, but China retains in law a number of nonviolent death penalty offences such as drug trafficking. The People's Republic of China administers more official death penalties than any other country, though other countries (such as Iran and Singapore) have higher official execution rates.[125] Reliable NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights in China have informed the public that the total execution numbers, with unofficial death penalties included, greatly exceed officially recorded executions; in 2009, the Dui Hua Foundation estimated that 5,000 people were executed in China – far more than all other nations combined.[126] The precise number of executions is regarded as a state secret.

PRC authorities have recently been pursuing measures to reduce the official number of crimes punishable by death and limit how much they officially utilise the death penalty. In 2011, the National People's Congress Standing Committee adopted an amendment to reduce the number of capital crimes from 68 to 55.[127] Later the same year, the Supreme People's Court ordered lower courts to suspend death sentences for two years and to 'ensure that it only applies to a very small minority of criminals committing extremely serious crimes.'[128]

The death penalty is one of the classical Five Punishments of the Chinese Dynasties. In Chinese philosophy, the death penalty was supported by the Legalists, but its application was tempered by the Confucianists, who preferred rehabilitation over punishment of any sort, including capital punishment.[129] In Communist philosophy, Vladimir Lenin urged the retention of the death penalty, whilst Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels claimed that the practice was feudal and a symbol of capitalist oppression. Chairman Mao of the Communist Party of China and his government retained the death penalty's place in the legal system, whilst advocating that it be used for a limited number of counterrevolutionaries. The market reformer Deng Xiaoping after him stressed that the practice must not be abolished, and advocated its wider use against recidivists and corrupt officials. Leaders of the PRC's minor, non-communist parties have also advocated for greater use of the death penalty. Both Deng and Mao viewed the death penalty as having tremendous popular support, and portrayed the practice as a means to 'assuage the people's anger'.[129]

The death penalty has widespread support in China, especially for violent crimes, and no group in government or civil society vocally advocates for its abolition.[129] Surveys conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1995, for instance, found that 95 percent of the Chinese population supported the death penalty, and these results were mirrored in other studies.[130] Polling conducted in 2007 in Beijing, Hunan and Guangdong found a more moderate 58 percent in favor of the death penalty, and further found that a majority (63.8 percent) believed that the government should release execution statistics to the public.[126]

A total of 46 crimes are punishable by death, including some non-violent, white-collar crimes such as embezzlement and tax fraud. Execution methods include lethal injections and shooting.[131] The People's Armed Police carries out the executions, usually at 10:00 am.[132]

Death sentences in post-Maoist mainland China can be politically or socially influenced. In 2003, a local court sentenced the leader of a triad society to a death sentence with two years of probation. However, the public opinion was that the sentence was too light. Under public pressure, the supreme court of Communist China took the case and retried the leader, resulting in a death sentence, which was carried out immediately.[133]

Execution protocol

The execution protocol is defined in criminal procedure law, under article 212:[134]

Before a people's court executes a death sentence, it shall notify the people's procuratorate at the same level to send personnel to supervise the execution.
Death sentences shall be executed by means of shooting or injection.
Death sentences may be executed at the execution ground or in designated places of custody.
The judicial personnel directing the execution shall verify the identity of the criminal offender, ask him if he has any last words or letters, and then deliver him to the executioner for the death sentence. If, before the execution, it is found that there may be an error, the execution shall be suspended and the matter shall be reported to the Supreme People's Court for decision.
Execution of death sentences shall be announced to the public, but shall not be held in public.
The attending court clerk shall, after an execution, make a written record thereon. The people's court that caused the death sentence to be executed shall submit a report on the execution to the Supreme People's Court.
The people's court that caused the death sentence to be executed shall, after the execution, notify the family of the criminal offender.

In some areas of China, there is no specific execution ground. A scout team chooses a place in advance to serve as the execution ground. In such a case, the execution ground normally will have three perimeters: the innermost 50 meters is the responsibility of the execution team; the 200-meter radius from the center is the responsibility of the People's Armed Police; and the 2-kilometer alert line is the responsibility of the local police. The public is generally not allowed to view the execution.

The role of the executioner was fulfilled in the past by the People's Armed Police. In recent times, the legal police force (Chinese: 法警; pinyin: fǎ jǐng) assumed this role.

Since 1949, the most common method of execution has been execution by firing squad. This method has been largely superseded by lethal injection, using the same three-drug cocktail pioneered by the United States, introduced in 1996. Execution vans are unique to China, however. Lethal injection is more commonly used for 'economic crimes' such as corruption, while firing squads are used for more common crimes like murder. In 2010, Chinese authorities moved to have lethal injection become the dominant form of execution; in some provinces and municipalities, it is now the only legal form of capital punishment.[135] The Dui Hua foundation notes that it is impossible to ascertain whether these guidelines are closely followed, as the method of execution is rarely specified in published reports.[126]


Human rights groups and foreign governments have heavily criticised China's use of the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including its application for non-violent offences, allegations of the use of torture to extract confessions, legal proceedings that do not meet international standards, and the government's failure to publish statistics on the death penalty.[136] However, as acknowledged by both the Chinese Supreme Court and the United States Department of State, the vast majority of death sentences are given for violent, nonpolitical crimes which would be considered serious in other countries.[129]

The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong has accused Chinese hospitals of using the organs of executed prisoners for commercial transplantation.[137] Under Chinese law, condemned prisoners must give written consent to become organ donors, but because of this and other legal restrictions on organ donation, an international black market in organs and cadavers from China has developed.[138][139] In 2009, Chinese authorities acknowledged that two-thirds of organ transplants in the country could be traced back to executed prisoners and announced a crackdown on the practice.[140]

Wrongful executions

At least four people have been considered wrongfully executed by PRC courts.

Wei Qingan (Chinese: 魏清安, circa 1951  1984) was a Chinese citizen who was executed for the rape of Liu, a woman who had disappeared. The execution was carried out on 3 May 1984 by the Intermediate People's Court. In the next month, Tian Yuxiu (田玉修) was arrested and admitted that he had committed the rape. Three years later, Wei was officially declared innocent.[141]

Teng Xingshan (Chinese: 滕兴善, ?  1989) was a Chinese citizen who was executed for having raped, robbed and murdered Shi Xiaorong (石小荣), a woman who had disappeared. An old man found a dismembered body, and police forensics claimed to have matched the body to the photo of the missing Shi Xiaorong. The execution was carried out on 28 January 1989 by the Huaihua Intermediate People's Court. In 1993, the missing woman returned to the village, saying she had been kidnapped to Shandong. The absolute innocence of the executed Teng was not admitted until 2005.[142]

Nie Shubin (Chinese: 聂树斌, 1974  1995) was a Chinese citizen who was executed for the rape and murder of Kang Juhua (康菊花), a woman in her thirties. The execution was carried out on 27 April 1995 by the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court. In 2005, ten years after the execution, Wang Shujin (Chinese: 王书金) admitted to the police that he had committed the murder.[143]


Although China outlawed torture in 1996, human rights groups say brutality and degradation are common in Chinese arbitrary detention centres, Laojiao prisons and black jails. While the existence of black jails is acknowledged by at least part of the government,[144] the CPC strongly denies facilitating the operation of such jails and officially cracks down on them, leading to at least one trial.[145]

In May 2010, the PRC authorities officially passed new regulations in an attempt to nullify evidence gathered through violence or intimidation in their official judicial procedures, and to reduce the level of torture administered to prisoners already in jails. Little is known, however, about whether or how procedures were modified in black jails, which are not officially part of the judicial system. The move came after a public outcry following the revelation that a farmer, convicted for murder based on his confession under torture, was in fact innocent. The case came to light only when his alleged victim was found alive, after the defendant had spent ten years in prison.[146] International human rights groups gave the change a cautious welcome.[147]

Political abuse of psychiatry

In 2002, Human Rights Watch published a book by Robin Munro, titled Dangerous Minds: Political Psychiatry in China Today and its Origins in the Mao Era and based on documents obtained by him.[148][149] Munro is a sinologist who was writing his dissertation in London after a long sojourn in China. He had travelled to China several times to survey libraries in provincial towns and had gathered a large amount of literature which bore the stamp 'secret', though it was openly available.[150]:242 This literature included historical analyses going back to the days of the Cultural Revolution, and concerned articles and reports on the number of people who were taken to mental hospitals because they complained of a series of issues.[150]:242 Munro found that the involuntary confinement of members of religious groups, political dissidents, and whistleblowers had a lengthy history in China.[151] The abuse had begun in the 1950s and 1960s, and had grown extremely prevalent throughout the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.[150]:242 It achieved its apogee during that period, under the reign of Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four, who had established a very repressive and harsh regime.[151] No deviance or opposition in thought or in practice was tolerated.[151]

The documents told of a massive abuse of psychiatry for political purposes during the leadership of Mao Zedong, during which millions of people had been declared mentally sick.[150]:242 In the 1980s, according to the official documents, there was political involvement in fifteen per cent of all forensic psychiatric cases.[150]:242 By the early 1990s, the numbers had dropped to five per cent, but with beginning of the campaign against Falun Gong, the percentage again increased quite rapidly.[150]:242

Chinese official psychiatric literature testifies distinctly that the Communist Party's notion of 'political dangerousness' has long since been institutionally engrafted into the diagnostic armory of China's psychiatry, and included in the main concept of psychiatric dangerousness.[148]:4

The People's Republic of China is the only country which appears to abuse psychiatry for political purposes in a systematic way, and despite international criticism, this abuse seems to be continuing as of 2010.[152] Political abuse of psychiatry in the People’s Republic of China is high on the agenda in the international psychiatric community, and has produced recurring disputes.[152] The abuses there appear to be even more widespread than in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s and involve the incarceration of petitioners, human rights workers, trade union activists, followers of the Falun Gong movement, and people complaining against injustices by local authorities.[152]

It appears that before 1989, China had few if any high security forensic institutions.[150]:243 However, since then, the Chinese authorities have constructed an entire network of special forensic mental hospitals called Ankang, which means 'Peace and Health' in Chinese.[150]:243 By 2009, China had had 20 Ankang institutions staffed by employees of the Ministry of State Security.[150]:243 The psychiatrists who worked there were wearing uniforms under their white coats.[150]:243

The political abuse of psychiatry in China seems to take place only in the institutions under the authority of the police and the Ministry of State Security, not in those belonging to other governmental sectors.[150]:243 Psychiatric care in China falls into four sectors that rarely overlap:[150]:243

The sectors belonging to the police and to the Ministry of State Security are closed sectors, and, consequently, information about them rarely leaks out.[150]:243 In the hospitals belonging to the Ministry of Health, psychiatrists did not contact the Ankang institutions, and had no idea of what occurred there; they could sincerely state that they were not informed of political abuse of psychiatry in China.[150]:243

In China, the structure of forensic psychiatry was to a great extent identical to that in the USSR.[150]:243 This is not strange, since psychiatrists of the Moscow Serbsky Institute visited Beijing in 1957 to help their Chinese brethren: the same psychiatrists who promoted the system of political abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union.[150]:243 As a consequence, diagnostics were not much different than in the Soviet Union.[150]:244 The only difference was that the Soviets preferred sluggish schizophrenia as a diagnosis, and the Chinese generally clove to the diagnosis of paranoia or paranoid schizophrenia.[150]:244 However, the results were the same: long hospitalization in a mental hospital, involuntary treatment with neuroleptics, torture, abuse, all aimed at breaking the victim's will.[150]:244

In accordance with Chinese law that defines political harm to society as legally dangerous mentally ill behavior, police take into mental hospitals 'political maniacs,' defined as persons who write reactionary letters, make anti-government speeches, or 'express opinions on important domestic and international affairs.'[153] Psychiatrists are frequently caught involved in such cases, unable and unwilling to challenge the police, according to Peking University psychiatry professor Yu Xin.[154] As Mr. Liu's database suggests, today's most frequent victims of psychiatric abuse are political dissidents, petitioners, and Falun Gong members.[155] In the early 2000s, Human Rights Watch accused China of locking up Falun Gong members and dissidents in a number of Chinese mental hospitals managed by the Public Security Bureau.[155] Access to the hospitals was requested by the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), but denied by China, and the controversy subsided.[155]

The WPA attempted to present the problem as solely a Falun Gong issue. They appeared to desire, among other things, to make the impression that the members of the movement were likely not mentally sound, and that it was a sect which likely brainwashed its members.[150]:245 They created a diagnosis of 'qigong syndrome', referring to the exercises practiced by Falun Gong.[150]:245 The WPA was trying to avoid the political abuse of psychiatry from dominating its agenda.[150]:245

In August 2002, the General Assembly of the WPA was held during the WPA World Congress in Yokohama.[150]:247 The issue of Chinese political abuse of psychiatry had been placed as one of the final items on the agenda of the General Assembly.[150]:251 When the issue was broached during the General Assembly, a decision was made to send an investigative mission to China.[150]:252 The visit was projected for the spring of 2003, in order to assure that a representative of the WPA could present a report during the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May 2003, as well as at the annual meeting of the British Royal College of Psychiatrists in June and July of that year.[150]:252 The 2003 investigative mission never took place, and when the WPA did organize a visit to China, it was more a scientific exchange.[150]:252 In the meantime, the political abuse of psychiatry persisted unabated.[150]:252

Ethnic minorities

There are 55 officially recognized native ethnic minorities in China. Article 4 of the Chinese constitution states 'All nationalities in the People's Republic of China are equal', and the government argues that it has made efforts to improve ethnic education and increased ethnic representation in local government. Some groups are still fighting for recognition as minorities. In the 1964 Census, there were 183 nationalities registered, of which the government recognized 54.[156]

Some policies cause reverse racism, in which Han Chinese or even ethnic minorities from other regions are treated as second-class citizens in the ethnic region.[157][158] Similarly, there are wide-ranging preferential policies (affirmative action programs) in place to promote social and economic development for ethnic minorities, including preferential employment, political appointments, and business loans.[159] Universities typically have quotas reserved for ethnic minorities, even if they have lower admission test scores.[160] Ethnic minorities are also more often exempt from the one-child policy, which targets the Han Chinese.

Stern punishments of independence-seeking demonstrators, rioters, or terrorists[161] have led to mistreatment of the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities in Western China. The United States in 2007 refused to help repatriate five Chinese Uyghur Guantanamo Bay detainees because of 'past treatment of the Uigur minority'.[162] On the other hand, China has many border regions with large minority populations. For example, Guangxi has 16 million Zhuang people, and other concentrated Muslim populations such as the Hui people among them. The fellow Muslim Kazakhs, who live with the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang area under similar laws and conditions, have not organized rebellions against the state or aligned themselves with Kazakhstan.[163] In its 2007 annual report to the U.S. Congress, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said the Chinese government "provides incentives for migration to the region from elsewhere in China.[164] Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, said on April 2014 that China faces increasing threats to national security and the government could impose tougher controls on its ethnic minorities due to terrorist attacks like the 2014 Kunming attack.[165]


Tibetans who opposed the diversion of irrigation water by Chinese authorities to the China Gold International Resources mining operations were detained, tortured and murdered.[166][166] Allegations of what the PRC officially labelled 'judicial mutilation' against Tibetans by the Dalai Lama's government, and the serfdom controversy, have been cited by the PRC as reasons to interfere for what they claim was the welfare of Tibetans,[167] although their claims of 'judicial mutilation' are controversial and subject to scepticism and dispute by foreign countries and international organisations. Conflicting reports about Tibetan human rights have been produced since then. The PRC claims that Tibet has been enjoying a cultural revival since the 1950s, whereas the Dalai Lama says 'whether intentionally or unintentionally, somewhere cultural genocide is taking place'.[168][169]

Following the Chinese economic reform, businesspeople from other parts of China have made many business trips to Tibet, although most do not stay in region. The New York Times has cited this ethnic diversity in Tibet as a cause of "ethnic tensions". It has also disagreed significantly with the promotion by PRC authorities of home ownership in nomadic Tibetan societies.[170] Western politicians often level the charge that the Tibetan languages are at risk of extinction in Tibet.[171] Others, however, both inside and outside China and Tibet, claim that for a vast majority of Tibetans, who live in rural areas, the Chinese language is merely introduced as a second language in secondary school.[172]

Economic and property rights

The National People's Congress enacted a law in 2007 to protect private property, with the exception of land. Nevertheless, according to Der Spiegel magazine, local Chinese authorities have used brutal means to expropriate property, in a bid to profit from the construction boom.[173]

In 2001, homosexuality was removed from the official list of mental illnesses in China.[174] China recognizes neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions.[175]

Another problem is that a man's sexual rights cannot be protected by the laws of China. According to the criminal law of China, only females can be victims of rape, a man who has been raped cannot accuse the rapists (who can be men or women) of rape. However, the criminal law of China had been amended in August 2015 thus males can be victims of indecency, but the articles on the criminal law which are related to rape still remain unrevised, so male rape victims can only accuse the rapists of indecency.[176][177]

Other human rights issues

Workers' rights and privacy are contentious human rights issues in China. There have been several reports of core International Labour Organization conventions being denied to workers. One such report was released by the International Labor Rights Fund in October 2006; it documented minimum wage violations, long work hours, and inappropriate actions towards workers by management.[178] Workers cannot form their own unions in the workplace; they may only join state-sanctioned ones. The extent to which these organizations can fight for the rights of Chinese workers is disputed.[111]

The policy toward refugees from North Korea is a recurring human rights issue. It is official policy to repatriate these refugees to North Korea, but the policy is not evenly enforced and a considerable number of them stay in the People's Republic. Though it is in contravention of international law to deport political refugees, as illegal immigrants their situation is precarious. Their rights are not always protected,[179] and some are tricked into marriage or prostitution.[180]

African students in China have complained about their treatment in China. Their complaints largely ignored until 19889, when 'students rose up in protest against what they called "Chinese apartheid'".[181] African officials took notice of the issue, and the Organization of African Unity issued an official protest. The organization's chairman, President Moussa Traoré of Mali, went on a fact-finding mission to China.[181] A 1989 report in Guardian stated: 'these practices could threaten Peking's entire relationship with the continent.'[182]

The United Nations reports that it has had difficulty in arranging official visits to China by UN Special Rapporteurs on various human rights issues.[183]

Position of the government

The Government of the People's Republic of China has argued that its concept of 'Asian values'[184] requires that the welfare of the collective should always be put ahead of the rights of any individual whenever conflicts between these arise. Its position is that the government has the responsibility to design, implement and enforce a 'harmonious socialist society'[185] and a 'people's democratic dictatorship'.

The People's Republic of China emphasizes state sovereignty, which at times conflicts with the international norms or standards of human rights. However, its concept of human rights has developed radically over the years. From 1949 to the late 1970s, the CPC focused on promoting the rights of the masses: collective rights rather than individual human rights. Deng Xiaoping went as far to say that the right of a nation, or sovereignty (guoquan) is more important than human rights (renquan), and right of subsistence (shengcun quan) is more fundamental than political freedom.[186] However, from the beginning of economic reforms in 1978 to the 1989 Tiananmen incident and democratic movement, the CPC raised concerns for human rights in their domestic and international policies. In 1991, China officially accepted the idea that human rights were compatible with Chinese socialism, and in 1993 the state created the China Society for Human Rights Studies, which has represented Chinese positions on human rights in international forums, conferences, and media. China went on to sign two treaties – the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) in 1997 and 1998, respectively. The ICESCR was ratified by the National People's Congress in 2001, but as of 2016, the ICCPR has not yet been ratified.[187] As of 2013, the PRC had signed more than 20 international treaties on human rights.[188] However, in practice China still does not follow these standards. China has adopted measures that would uphold certain human rights policies within their socialist environment. The government still questions the international human rights norm, and emphasizes sovereignty over human rights. The PRC is concerned that Western states may be using the concepts of human rights and democracy to justify power politics.

PRC official statements have argued that their principle of a people's democratic dictatorship is an apt measure to enforce the compromises they deem necessary to counter these conflicting interests. Those who agree with this position believe that governments with constitutionally determined and restricted authority who grant their citizens the degree of freedom and liberty present in most free nations fail to take on the responsibility of regulating these conflicting interests. This position is highly controversial.

Western human rights

Those who agree with the CPC point towards what they call rapid deterioration in Western societies, claiming that there has been an increase in geographic, religious and racial segregation, rising crime rates, family breakdown, industrial action, vandalism, and political extremism within Western societies. The European Union and the United Nations claim to be stopping these types of human rights violations, save for a few violations committed by some western governments (e.g. the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme). The PRC holds the opinion, though, that many alleged negatives about democratic society are a direct result of an excess of individual freedom, saying that too much freedom is dangerous.[189] The government of the PRC holds that these actions in western nations are all violations of human rights. They say that these should be taken into account when assessing a country's human rights record. On occasion they have criticised the United States policies, especially the human rights reports published by its State Department. They cite the opinion that the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, has also violated human rights laws, for example during the invasion of Iraq.[190] They refer as well to the CIA's black sites, used allegedly for extrajudicial detention, as well as its highly criticised extraordinary rendition programmes, whereby it allegedly transfers criminals from foreign territory to nations where they could be tortured—though the US government has denied facilitating any of these human rights violations, and British authorities have denied helping them. They respond to the CPC's accusations by reminding them that PRC administrative groups have been accused of operating labour camps that violate human rights laws, although often sanctioned by official PRC laws. The Communist Party of China strongly denies operating any labour camps or jails that violate the PRC's official laws, and counters that the NSA has been known to engage in warrantless phone hacking and wiretapping in the US and upon US citizens in other places.

Chinese definition

The PRC government repeats the often ambiguously and confusingly stated opinion that human rights should encompass what its officials have labelled as 'economic standards of living and measures of health and economic prosperity'.[1] It insists that as economic, cultural and political situations differ substantially between countries, a international definition of human rights literally cannot apply to China.

Measures taken

In March 2003, an amendment was officially made to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, officially yet ambiguously stating that 'The State respects and preserves human rights.'[191] In addition, China was dropped from a list of top ten human rights violators in the annual human rights report released by the U.S. State Department in 2008, though the report indicated that there were still widespread human rights-related issues in the PRC.[192]

In 1988, the Chinese government began direct village elections to help maintain social and political order whilst facing rapid economic change. Elections now occur in about 650,000 villages across China, reaching 75% of the nation's 1.3 billion people, according to the Carter Center.[193] In 2008, Shenzhen, which enjoys the highest per capita GDP in China, was selected for experimentation, and over 70% of the government officials on the district level are to be directly elected (as of 2008).[194] However, in keeping with Communist Party philosophy, candidates must be selected from a pre-approved list.[195]

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