EU, China, and the Concept of Human Rights: from a Cultural Relativism Perspective

University essay from Lunds universitet/Statsvetenskapliga institutionen; Lunds universitet/Master of Science in Global Studies; Lunds universitet/Graduate School

Abstract: Human rights have become one of the most sensitive issues between EU and China, and it has brought a substantial impact on the bilateral relation. The EU’s persistent criticism on the Chinese human rights situation has not only provoked strong reaction from the Chinese government, but also led to a wide antipathy towards the EU’s external human rights policy among ordinary Chinese people. Adopting cultural relativism as the theoretical framework, this master thesis explores the different views of Europe and China on the issue of human rights. It discusses how the characteristics of Chinese culture have influenced the implication of human rights to Chinese. Also, it elaborates how the Chinese understanding of human rights is related to the current Chinese position on a series of specific human rights issues. To demonstrate the validity of the analysis, the thesis overviews three typical issues in European Parliament's resolutions regarding Chinese human rights situation: the death penalty, the Tibet problem and freedom of expression, and illustrates the standpoints of both sides. It can be seen that culture is an effective factor in explaining the discrepancy. The study gets to the conclusion that EU fails to provoke sympathy among Chinese on its human rights position because Chinese hold a different view on the content of the notion. Concerning different aspects of human rights, Chinese give strong priorities to collective interests over individual rights. Meanwhile, the domestic demand for civil and political rights remains relatively low, since economic rights are seen as more essential rights.

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