China: A Place of Increasing Democracy?

In the UK, we are fortunate to be able to write articles, such as the following. For thousands of people across the world, this simple act of writing could be illegal.

In 2010, hundreds celebrated China’s first Nobel Peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo, as he accepted this prestigious award for his non-violent and persistent struggle towards a recognition of human rights in China. This was to be a moment that captured the interest of people throughout the world; was Liu Xiaobo’s achievement to signify a new era for China, in which human rights would be taken into greater consideration by the government and leaders? Initially, Xiaobo appeared to be a ray of hope for the country. Much of the world sat back and wondered if this was to be a time for change.

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo

Whilst China remains an increasingly developing country, home to a large proportion of the world’s population, it is, sadly, a country with one of the world’s highest rates of human rights abuses. Force, torture and excessive police control are prevalent throughout the country. Unsurprisingly, then, China has one of the highest rates of execution in the world; people are put to death unfairly and without trial. These punishments are common in cases of citizens speaking out against the government, criticising the country, leaders and government ideas or propaganda. The policies and legislation of the government by no means practise a high standard of human rights.

It can be so difficult sometimes to understand this situation from afar; for many of us, restricted freedom of speech is not exactly a daily experience! Spending time in China this summer opened my eyes afresh to some of the difficulties and frustrations that the Chinese people may face, and the implications of these problems in their lives. Immediately upon arrival in China I became aware of a few common frustrations the people experience in regard to freedom of speech. There are some subjects, including politics, religion, ‘states’ of China, and democracy, which are entirely taboo, especially for Westerners, tourists and those with opinions and ideological systems which are not considered to be ‘mainstream’ in China. On occasion I was slightly uneasy about conversation and topics that had the potential to be wrongly misconstrued – not something I have never experienced before!

Internet censorship has been a hot topic in China in recent years

The role the internet plays in promoting democratic ideas of both individuals and groups is taken very seriously by the government, and many social media and networking sites are banned as a result. Most notably, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can’t be accessed. It became clear that I would have to rely entirely upon email; it was the first time in years that I had been completely without access to social networking sites. It highlighted how reliant we, in Britain, are upon social networking and just how great a potential we have to impact our friends and society in this way. And this is not the only restriction of speech and communication. Emails, phone calls, texts, Skype and letters are all strictly censored. For many people this is ‘normal’, however; it is important to remember that many Chinese citizens have not experienced otherwise.

After some time experiencing this kind of society, I returned home with a renewed appreciation of how in Britain we are able to easily access information on the internet and express ourselves entirely freely. I feel incredibly fortunate to be born into an open society, which allows and caters for an increasingly diverse range of opinions and beliefs. I was able to gain an insider’s perspective into China, which ultimately pointed to the importance of promoting human rights in countries throughout the world.

China might be on it’s way to achieving a fairer society step by step, and whilst an increased presence of activists and advocators of rights might indicate this, their struggle towards a more democratic and fairer society is by no means complete. There is still much to be done in China before a fair and just state based on the equal human rights can ever be achieved. In the mean time, I will remember that we who know freedom are the ones that can help in bringing freedom to others

Esther Elliott


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