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About This Issue

July 3, 2012

Welcome to the first issue of China Rights Forum online: “Human Rights and Culture”!

For the human rights project, culture is a living and continuously evolving space for individuals and social groups to claim, shape, contest, or reject competing visions and values. It is an arena in which a society builds or rebuilds itself, or attempts to understand its own nature and possibilities. Thus, the political struggle for the control over culture is an effort to control what is ultimately uncontrollable.

Yet for the past six decades, the Communist Party of China has tried to impose on the Chinese society a monolithic vision of what Chinese culture is and should be. And through information and social control and propaganda, the Chinese authorities have attempted to dictate a unified, “correct” narrative about China’s past, present, and possible futures. But if they had succeeded to a great degree to control what people can say, they have failed to control what people can think or erase the realities of people’s lived experiences.

The CPC’s revolutionary vision aimed at remaking human nature and building an egalitarian society in China. But decades of Party rule and social control have been marked by massive abuses flowing from failed policies and campaigns, including the Great Leap Forward, Anti-Rightists Campaign, Cultural Revolution, ethnic minorities development policies, and the June 4 1989 military crackdown.

In the late 1980s, the Party leaders made an uneasy ideological shift to market reforms “with socialist characteristics,” which have turned into a kind of brutal, unrestrained capitalism. The official Party narrative has focused on the unprecedented economic growth, which has lifted millions out of poverty and made China a global leader. But as is increasingly recognized even by China’s leaders, the country now faces massive and growing social inequalities and conflicts and devastating environmental and human costs—serious challenges that stem from reform policies.

This is a critical moment in China not only because of the upcoming key leadership transition in the fall of 2012. In a globally connected China, the exponential expansion of social media and digital space—more than 1 billion cell phones, 513 million netizens online, and 300 million microbloggers—is enabling a vibrant, diverse, and connected online culture to thrive. In this space, people voicing critique of the current order as well as daily life concerns—tainted consumer products, food and drugs, dangerous workplaces, endemic corruption, polluted air and water, and education for their children—are evading control, often through humor and satire.

China Rights Forum online hopes to contribute to advancing and enlarging this lively space, and to enable and support safe and sustainable platforms for diverse voices and visions.

The contributors in the first section of this issue—“Contesting Chinese Culture(s)”—examine the often asserted tensions between traditional Chinese culture and human rights and democratic values, offer a vision of China’s future that the Party has said is impossible given its history and culture, and explore the role of education and creativity to develop critical thinkers and engaged citizens. The essays, interview, and video in the second section—“Reclaiming Tibetan Culture”—provide powerful insights into the deep connections between the land, the soil of one’s homeland, and the survival of a people’s culture, history, and spirit. The third section—the 18th Party Commentaries—sheds light on the black box of the ongoing leadership power struggles and their implications for Chinese people and China’s future.

The fourth section, “Culture Matters,” features reviews of two books and a documentary film. This section will become a regular journal feature that presents reviews of books, films, and art, as well as recommendations from HRIC staff members.

We invite you to join the discussion and support this vibrant, expanding civil space. We encourage you to share, tweet, like on Facebook, and comment, and send your thoughts through our “Letters to the Editors” section. We look forward to hearing from you! 

The Editors