The Chinese People’s Struggle for Democracy and China’s Long Quest for Dignity

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''Does a nation have dignity if its people have none?" This provocative question lingers along China’s tumultuous path towards democratization amid its people’s century-long struggle to stand up and be counted. As a superpower-in-waiting, China’s national strength, however, does not appear to sit comfortably with the undignified realities of many Chinese people, who, having endured the scourges of past political upheavals, are grappling with an all-powerful state bent with maintaining stability at all cost. For those undeterred souls, Charter 08 represents their boldest democratic manifesto to date. The ensuing clampdown and incarceration of its leading author and 2010 Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo, shows not only the lengths to which the unrelenting one-party rule will go in suppressing dissents, but also that of the nation’s resolute democrats who persevere against all odds. Drawing on the life-changing movements surrounding two of China’s foremost dissidents, Liu Xiaobo and Wei Jingsheng, I argue that the quest for democracy symbolizes a “struggle for recognition” by those who jealously guard their dignity. The idea of dignity permeates through China’s traditional ethos, its constitution, and even official rhetoric. In fact, the Chinese leadership has always endorsed democratization as a development goal, albeit with a socialist proviso. While context and culture matter, I dispute China’s assertion that liberal democracy is essentially Western and un-Chinese. After all, in an Internet era, the aspirations for freedom and democracy are virtually irrepressible. In China’s case, the growing league of home-grown democrats have already made a mark in the people’s long march for dignity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207–242
JournalConnecticut Journal of International Law
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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