The question of human rights has always been, and especially in recent months, an issue in discussion about China and the U.S. On the surface, the issue may appear to be pretty straight forward, in the sense that China, in comparison with the U.S., significantly lags behind on the issue of human rights, and it is perfectly reasonable for the U.S. to lecture and pressure China to improve in the area of human rights as part of establishing a more friendly and collaborative effort between the U.S. and China. However, if one analyzes the situation more carefully, this issue is far from being so simple and straight forward. As a matter of fact, it actually leads to the conclusion that the U.S. is purposely and unfairly using this human rights stick to masquerade and justify its constant China bashing and divert the attention of the American people and the world from the U.S.’s own shortcomings, both domestically and internationally.
I do not want to give the impression that China does not have human rights issues. It does, and it needs significant improvement in many aspects of human rights. So the question is not whether China needs to work on human rights, the question is whether taking into account its historical, economic, social, and political circumstances, is China making reasonable progress on human rights. The People’s Republic of China was established only 62 years ago. Before its establishment in 1949, China emerged from a feudal society that lasted for several thousand years, was under the imperialistic domination of many foreign powers for almost a hundred years, experienced a devastating 14-year (1931-1945) War of Resistance against Japan, and a civil war that on and off lasted for most of the 30 or so years before 1949.
Let’s take a look at the U.S. When the U.S. Constitution was approved on September 17, 1787 , there was still slavery, and each slave was counted as only three fifths of a free person in terms of determining the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. It took 78 years before the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was approved on December 6, 1865 and abolished slavery. Then it took another 55 years until August 18, 1920, or 133 years from the establishment of the U.S. Constitution, before the Nineteenth Amendment was approved and gave women equal voting rights. This means that just from a legal perspective, it could take a long time to change long-established traditions and prejudices. Furthermore, even after the abolishment of slavery from a legal perspective, for another 90 years black American citizens had to sit in the back of the bus, attend poorer segregated schools, were denied equal employment, ranked always on the bottom of the economic scale, etc. They were far from getting equal treatment. It took the massive civil rights movement that started in the 1950’s and 1960’s and continues to today to gradually move the nation so that black Americans and other minorities are getting closer, but still some distance to go, to achieving equal treatment.
What about the treatment of the Native Americans? Much of their land was taken away, and many of them were slaughtered. They were segregated in reservations, and relegated to second-class citizens. Similarly, the human rights of Chinese in America were violated, with acts such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that discriminated against a specific group of people based on their race or origin. They were not allowed to enter many professions, they were denied the right to become U.S. citizens, many of them were slaughtered, and they were even denied the right to testify in court. The Chinese Exclusion Act lasted essentially to 1943 when China and the U.S. were allies during WWII, and was not completely repealed until Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965. Again, it was an extremely long period of several decades of obvious human rights violation. The human rights of Japanese Americans and other Japanese living in the U.S. were also violated during WWII when they were uprooted from their homes and put into internment camps starting in 1942. Most of these were American citizens, and many of their young people served in the U.S. armed forces fighting for the U.S. against Japan. Such obvious violation of human rights was even upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944. It was1980, 35 years after WWII ended, before Congress passed legislation apologizing on behalf of the U.S. government for the internment.
Let’s take a look at how the U.S. acted internationally. The U.S. used gunboat diplomacy when Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. navy sailed into Tokyo harbor in 1853 with a fleet of navy ships and demanded concessions from Japan, which the U.S. obtained in 1854 that ended Japan’s 200 years of seclusion (or interaction with outside) and opened up Japan. Later the U.S. added to its imperialistic expansion into Asia with the Spanish-American War of 1898. After defeating Spain, the U.S. gained the Philippines from Spain’s colonial possession. After helping the Americans to fight against Spain, the Filipinos wanted to declare independence. But the Americans fought the Filipino nationalists for about 15 years starting from 1899, and finally subdued the Filipino nationalists in 1914. It was a bloody war with thousands of casualties on both sides. It took another 31 years before the U.S. granted independence to Philippines in 1945.
Starting near the end of the 19th century, the U.S. was also one of the foreign powers who obtained various kinds of concessions from China, making China essentially not a sovereign nation with full control of its own territories. Being a late entry (as compared to countries like Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan) into getting concessions from China, the U.S. was concerned that it would be left out from the partition of China by various European powers, Russia, and Japan, so the U.S. introduced the so-called “Open Door Policy” whose principle was that if one foreign power got concessions from China, then other foreign powers should also be privileged to similar types of concessions. This policy definitely did not take into account the human rights of China and the Chinese people. It was also the direct interference of the U.S. that kept China from becoming a unifying country in 1949 after the Chinese Communists defeated the Chinese Nationalists in their civil war.
After the French lost its war in Vietnam in 1954, the U.S. moved in and tried to continue France’s colonial rule over Vietnam. The end result was 20 years of one of the most deadliest wars in history when about 58,000 American soldiers died, and more than a million Vietnamese soldiers died and another million Vietnamese civilians died. More recently in 2003, the U.S. used the pretense of Iraq’s secret possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to invade and essentially destroy the infrastructure in Iraq.
Speaking of WMDs, why the U.S. government did not prosecute any of the top Japanese doctors and scientists who led Unit 731, Japan’s huge biological and chemical weapons laboratory and factory in Harbin, China during WWII, where its WMDs were widely used in China killing and maiming millions of Chinese. The Japanese even experimented with live human captives, including cutting them open to see the effects of various germ weapons on the inside of their bodies. Dr. Martin Furmanski, an American doctor and medical historian who has interviewed many of the surviving Chinese victims of these WMDs, wrote “In a disgraceful agreement with the Japanese biological weapons war criminals, the U.S. offered immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for the scientific data the Japanese had collected from murdering Chinese citizens, as well as citizens of other countries, both in their laboratories and in field applications. The official U.S. and Japanese policy became one of denying the existence of the Japanese biological weapons program.”
From the above record, how can the U.S. honestly claim that it has an excellent record of human rights, both domestically and internationally, and that gives it credibility to lecture other countries on the issue of human rights. Perhaps because the U.S. politicians realize that the U.S. also has very serious problems, especially economic problems (e.g., its national debt is about the size of its gross domestic product), and it doesn’t seem to be able to find a way to solve these problems, so it needs to divert the anger and blame of the American public from the American political leaders to someone else.  At the same time, China is rising rapidly in economic power and will be the prime competitor to the U.S. as the world’s number one economic power. It is much easier to blame someone else, especially your major competitor, instead of admitting to your own mistakes, genuinely face the consequences, and correct those mistakes. Therefore, using the human rights stick over the head of China is really to masquerade and justify the constant China bashing by the American politicians and its mass media to divert the attention of the American people and the world from the U.S.’s own shortcomings, both domestically and internationally. The U.S. really does not have the moral authority to lecture other countries on this issue. One can seriously question whether the intention of the U.S. lecturing to China on the issue of human rights is really trying to help China to improve the welfare of the Chinese people, or just a new form of American imperialistic aggression.
We do acknowledge that China needs major improvement in human rights. It needs major improvement in multiple fronts, e.g.,
- Emergence of a super rich class of princelings 
- Often unclear laws and loose or arbitrary enforcement of laws
- Corruptions and abuses of power at various levels of government 
- More freedom of the press, religion, and for organizations and individuals
- Forced abortion to conform to the one-child policy
- Fair sharing of the fruits of economic success
We are not saying that one should not point out the shortcomings of China in human rights. We should, but we should not adopt the attitude of “holier than thou” and use this issue as a big stick over China’s head to masquerade and justify unwarranted China bashing,
Besides needing major improvement in human rights, China also needs major improvement in other areas. We believe the future success of China will depend crucially on how it addresses and improves on these areas. For a more detailed discussion of these areas that need major improvement, as well as a discussion of the many significant achievements accomplished by China in the last 60+ years, see the article in this website “An Assessment of China’s Future.” One must keep in mind that modern China is still a relatively young country. Considering how long it took the U.S. to improve some of its domestic human rights record, shouldn’t we at least allow China more time to work on additional improvements in this area?
 U.S. Constitution was approved about 11 years after July 4, 1776, the date of the Declaration of Independence.
 For more discussion on this issue, read the article “An Assessment of America’s Future” in this website.
 There is also a super rich class of princelings and there are also widespread corruptions and abuses of power by the rich and powerful people in the U.S. But getting super rich quickly and corruptions and abuses of power in the U.S. often occur under the guise of legal actions, they do not arouse people’s attention and anger as much.