Walking a Tightrope: Defending Human Rights in China

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by Gert Holmgaard Nielsen

His portrait still hangs there above the Gate of Heavenly Peace, overlooking Tiananmen Square – Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China and its Communist Party. As a leader, Mao took great measures to control the people. For decades, his word was law. When he died in 1976, he left a poor country in disarray and a fatigued and disillusioned population. The China his portrait overlooks today is different. It is a country on the path to the rule of law instead of rule of man. For today, despite perceptions in the West, it is actually possible for people in China to discuss human rights and to bring pressure to bear for improvements. And, by law, all Chinese enjoy an ever growing number of rights.

This book describes eleven Chinese citizens striving to promote human rights in their country. They are not dissidents and none of them has ever been to jail. Common for them all is that they challenge the authorities in a way that they are listened to rather than repressed. They use the law. However, they all need to move in small steps forward, one step at a time, with the occasional step backwards. Working with human rights in China is still a delicate balance between making progress and incurring the wrath and mistrust of the authorities. It is like walking a tightrope.

"We no longer have an emperor. We no longer have Confucius. We have neither God nor heaven. So what do we have? We have the law!" - He Hairen, lawyer

"If Liu Xiaobo had lived during the Cultural Revolution, he wouldn’t have been able to write anything. He would have been sent straight to prison. And if he hadn’t changed his attitude, he would have been executed on the spot. So you could say that China has made considerable progress." - Wang Sixin, media professor

"I feel enough is enough. I want change. I want China to become a country ruled by law, not by man." - Wu Qing, unaffiliated politician

"Because of the law, people know they have rights." ~ Wang Kan, NGO founder

Gert Holmgaard Nielsen worked as a journalist and photographer in China from 2003 to 2009. Based in Beijing, among other media, he was radio correspondent for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation for several years. Today, he teaches Mandarin Chinese at the Niels Brock Business College in Copenhagen.

Publication year: 2014
310 pp / 229mm x 152mm
157 figures
ISBN: 978-87-7694-131-4, Paperback

NIAS Press