The question of human rights is not a new phenomenon in modern societies. It has always dominated the foundations of modern democracy since 17th century. The discovery of the concept of human rights has contributed to formation of many social and political movements. Many social philosophers have grappled with and discussed the meaning, scope and general application of human rights. Thomas Paine is one of those philosophers, who discussed the rights of human beings in defending the principles of French revolutions (Fink 41). This concept was further developed by Locke, who was preoccupied with the idea of liberalism, following the introduction of English revolutions (Fink 43). As described by Fink, Locke was of the opinion that all human beings have a right to life and ownership of property, an argument that led to introduction and implementation of liberalism political system that left a great human impact in North American and French political revolutions (46). Fink further explains that the liberalism continued to expand with the social and scientific developments in Europe and North America (Fink 69).
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China is dominated by authoritarian governance that is characterized by dictatorship and abuse of human rights (Yang 18). The country does not hold elections for national leaders and it lacks freedom of worship. In addition, the country lacks freedom of the press, whereby the media and the internet are heavily censored (Yang 21). Furthermore, the government does not tolerate any form of opposition and criticism towards the leadership (Sen 21).
On one hand, power can be used negatively by leaders to opress, manipulate and control people under their leadership, while on the other hand, it can used constructively to foster democracy and country’s socio- economic empowerment (Panu, SY309, 2011). Power has been used to create social identities and political movements, whereby a great number of political philosophies are based theoretical and practical frameworks of human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of religion (Panu, SY309, 2011). In addition, power and knowledge are two inseparable concepts because power is a useful tool in the understanding and application of knowledge (Panu, SY309, 2011).
President Obama’s observations about China clearly show the lack of freedom and the domineering political oppression faced by the people of China as a result of the authoritarian governance, despite the country’s economic growth. He points out that China’s authoritarian governance contradicts values of the basic human rights and reiterates the need for Chinese government to promote the ideals of democracy based on the values of Western liberalism. Western liberalism system of governance allows the citizens to engage freely on issues affecting them in relation to governance. Its main strategy is not simply to repress dissent, desire or behavior but to promote the citizen’s engagement with social, political and democratization process (Panu, SY309, 2011).
According to Merton, Western Liberalism is based on capitalist values originating from the American culture that promotes individualism, universalism, materialism and achievement (38). China’s explosive economic growth has been attributed to introduction of capitalism in 1978, whereby the government aimed at eradicating poverty by abolishing communalism and embracing Western culture and modernization for the citizens to work hard in the belief that “getting rich is glorious.” However, the China’s governing authorities have refused to embrace Western form of governance by holding on to power and denying citizens their human rights and freedom of expression (Yang 28).
Stepan observes that the concept of freedom has been used both negatively and positively; arguing that in the positive sense, freedom is characterized by absence of coercion or unconstrained decisions (34). Furthermore, freedom should involve making decisions without being controlled by any form of external power or authority (Panu, SY309, 2011). Freedom in a liberal government is where citizens are allowed to make their decisions about normal conducts without being coerced by governing authorities. This disqualifies China from the list of liberal governments because decisions are made by government for citizens to implement without questioning (Panu, SY309, 2011). Furthermore, anyone opposing government policies in China is severely punished.
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By and large, the theoretical applications of power relations imply that power can be contested and resisted. Resistance of power is based on people’s perception and reactions to different rules, whereby in liberal societies like the U.S, public demonstrations, political activism and political struggles are allowed and accepted within the law (Stepan 34 ).Resistance to power in such countries can be done through the media discourses, public debates and political representations (Panu, SY309, 2011). Nevertheless, in countries characterized by authoritarian governance like China, resistance to power is viewed as a crime and it is totally unacceptable (Yang 28). Sen argues that democracy is a universal value but a contested concept, applied differently in various contexts (Sen 17). For a country like China to become democratic, it needs to undergo radical social transformation and reforms.
In conclusion, democracy is based on respect for human rights, freedom of press and access to information. In the U.S, it is based on liberalism, allowing the citizens to make decisions without the interference of state or authority figures. Liberal democracies embrace press release, public discourse and political struggle as a way of contesting power for their citizens. On the contrary, non-liberal countries like China view any attempt to resist power as a crime that is punishable by law. This calls for need for human rights activists and international organizations that embrace democracy to seek the way forward in creation of democratic governance for countries dominated by authoritarian leadership like China.
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