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China and the Global Reach of Human Rights

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2019

Yongjin Zhang
University of Bristol.
Barry Buzan
London School of Economics. Email:


This article examines the complex dialogical relationship between China and the global reach of human rights. It charts the transformation of China from a human rights exception and a human rights pariah state to an active participant in, and shaper of, global human rights governance. It looks at such transformation as dynamic social and political processes full of contradictions and the negotiated outcome of China's communicative engagement with “moral globalization” in a world morally divided on the meaning of human rights. It contends that the global reach of human rights understood as advancing rather than perfecting global justice will always remain contentious, as it is contingent on the possibility of open public reasoning across cultures and national boundaries in a global moral conversation. It also argues that China has resourcefully used the idiom of human rights for two specific purposes. One is to justify and rationalize its “developmental relativism” as an excuse for practices that condone continued political repression in China; the other is to internalize politics of contestation within the institutions of global human rights governance by shifting the centre of gravity of both the normative debate and the practical application of human rights.



本文研究中国与人权全球拓展之间复杂互动的对话关系, 探讨中国如何从一个人权例外国家和人权离弃国家转变为全球人权治理的积极参与者和塑造者。本文认为这一历史转变既是一个充满矛盾和活力的社会政治进程, 同时也是中国在一个因人权含义而出现道德分化的当今世界不断同 “道义全球化” 反复沟通、应对的协商性结果。本文提出两个重要观点。第一, 把人权的全球拓展理解为全球正义的进步而非完善将始终存有争议, 因为这种拓展有赖于全球道德对话中跨文化与跨国界的开放性大众思辩。第二, 中国巧妙地使用了人权习语以达到两个特定目的。一是利用人权习语将 “发展相对主义” 合理化, 成为北京继续实行人权政治压迫的托辞; 二是转移了人权规范的辩论及其实际运用的重心, 从而把有关人权的政治论争内化于全球人权治理机制之中。

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Copyright © SOAS University of London, 2019

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