The Cultural Perception of Human Rights

August 20, 2013

I was reading A Different Turning Point for Mankind by G. W. Bowersock in the May 9, 2013 issue of The New York Review of Books, and I had one of those Aha! moments when I read about the history of several different cultural philosophies and ideologies.

For millennia, the major cultures on the planet have been: Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian, Chinese, Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist.

But the concept of human rights that dominates the planet today has its roots from ancient Greece and Rome—not China, Africa, India, or the Middle East.

This Western, Greek-Roman concept of human rights that evolved over a period of centuries to dominate the planet today came about due to the fire and brimstone of the colonial era of the 18th and 19th centuries where European countries such as Spain, England, France, Germany, Portugal and Italy ruled, often brutally, over most of the planet. Then later the United States joined in building a global empire—again on a Greek-Roman, Christian foundation.

When Western citizens criticize China—or Asia, the Middle East or Africa for that matter—for human rights violations, these cultures are not being judged by their own perception of what human rights might mean. Instead, the West may be forcing its beliefs on those cultures.

In the West, human rights are based on the ideology of the self that emphasizes autonomy, but this is not relevant to a Confucian based society that stresses the primacy of community and the person’s obligation to others. Source: University of Illinois Press

And for the Islamic Middle East, Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im says, “Shari’ah, which is the historical foundations of Islamic law, directly affects the millions of Muslims around the world. Because of its moral and religious authority, it has great influence on the status of human rights for Muslim countries.”

For example: Are human rights claims based on status as an individual human being or status as a member of some community or group of people? Because traditional cultures do not always view the individual as an autonomous being possessed of rights above society. Source: Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center

Also, world hunger and poverty influence the concept of human rights—that may be only a momentary luxury because of developed countries where citizens have time to debate human rights instead of worry where the next meal or drink of water will come from. It may be a challenge to want democracy and human rights when you are starving.

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people, or one in eight people in the world, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties.” Source: World

If you were one of the hungry billion suffering from chronic undernourishment, would you be sitting around worrying about freedom of expression/religion, democracy [If you have never tasted democracy, how can you be expected to understand it?] and equal pay for men and women?

Discover Human Rights the Chinese Way


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Not Rule the World” – Part 7/12

December 3, 2011

Sixth Question [Parfitt]:

Governments and human-rights groups have heaped criticism on China about human-rights issues. Is such criticism justified?

Answer [Lofthouse]:


The evolution of human-rights is mostly a Western political phenomenon based on individualism dating back to the Greek City States hundreds of years before Christ and the Western Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD).

The timeline of the Ongoing Struggle for Human Rights in the West shows the first mention of an alleged human rights violation in China (according to Western values) was the 1989 (so-called) Tiananmen Square massacre.

However, you set the record straight on your Blog, June 4, 2011 in The Tiananmen Square Myth and I have written of this issue in  What is the Truth about Tiananmen Square? and The Tiananmen Square Hoax.

Examples of the slow progress of the evolution of human rights in the West may be seen in 1791 (fifteen years after the U.S. Declaration of Independence), when the U.S. Bill of Rights incorporated notions of freedom of speech, press, and fair trial into the new U.S. Constitution.

In fact, in 1920, the League of Nations Covenant required members to “endeavor to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labor for men, women and children,” but it took the US twenty-one more years before stricter laws banning the employment of underage children was declared constitutional in 1941 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Note, none of these early gains in the political arena of human rights took place in East Asia.

In addition, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not join the United Nations until 1971.

Since then, in human rights issues, the PRC has been increasingly successful at maintaining their positions. In 1995, they won 43 percent of the votes in the General Assembly; by 2006 they won 82 percent. quoted Li Junru, deputy director of the China Society for Human Rights Studies,  who said, “Since China adopted [its] reform and opening-up policy in 1978, the country has witnessed the second great liberation of human rights, as…reform in [the] economy, technology, education, culture, (and) politics…”

Since all of East Asia including China are collective cultures, the face of human rights may not fit the West’s definition of it.

Response [Parfitt]:

China’s culture isn’t collective. China is fond of saying it’s collective, that’s its strength, and the West should take a lesson, but if there’s one overarching rule in the Chinese universe, it’s this: the more you hear something, the more you can be assume it to be untrue.

‘Collectivism’ is a euphemism for ‘subservience.’

The Foshan incident highlights China’s awful individualism; 20 people ignoring a small girl hit by a truck. Western individualism may be extreme, but Westerners can act collectively when it counts. They often assist people in crisis, for example.

Cultural moral relativism argues there is no absolute truth, and no matter how dreadful circumstances become, they are forever valid. Cultural moral relativism isn’t unlike Orwell’s doublethink: “to hold simultaneously two opinions that cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

China’s human-rights:

Final Word [Lofthouse]:

Regarding collective cultures,, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U. S. Department of Education, offers a definitive definition.

ERIC says, “The remarkable differences between the East Asian cultures of China and Japan and the American culture make acculturation of East Asians into the mainstream of United States society extremely difficult.

“Characteristics of individualistic cultures include: the individual as an autonomous entity; egalitarianism; competitiveness; and self-reliance.

“Characteristics of collective cultures include: individuals as interdependent entities; hierarchism; cooperativeness; and self-denial (sacrificing one’s own desires or interests).”

In Litigation Nation, I explained why the behavior of a few individuals during the Foshan incident cannot be used to judge a nation.

A better example would be the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which affected almost 46 million Chinese in 10 provinces.

In Recovering from a Beating by Mother Nature, I compared China’s recovery to how America dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Continued on December 4, 2011 in Discussion with Troy Parfitt, the author of “Why China Will Never Rule the World – Travels in the Two Chinas” – Part 8 or return to Part 6.

See Discovering Intellectual Dishonesty – Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Flaws of Democracy and Humanitarianism – Part 5/7

December 15, 2010

Left Coast Voices posted a piece about Liu Xiabo, a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, who won the latest Nobel Peace Prize. My response turned into a seven part series.

In this segment, I will write about the self-esteem movement in America and make the connection that Western style democracy and Humanitarianism are not right for cultures such as China.

The self-esteem movement in the US had its start in the 18th century and as a cancer grew from there to the epidemic that now threatens the foundations of the United States.

The self-esteem movement makes sure that children hear only positive praise and that before turning 18, that the facade of success and getting good grades (not necessarily earning those grades) in school are guaranteed.

In the last few decades, this leg of Western style democratic humanitarianism has put much pressure on teachers to deliver the impossible.

However, in China, students must earn school grades through hard work (there are no gifts to help one feel good) and the competition is fierce while failure is crushing, which explains the high suicide rate in “all” of Asia (where the self-esteem movement in the US did not take root) and not just China.

Most US children have been told that if he or she can dream it, he or she will achieve that dream as if every child can become the next Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, a super star of some kind, or a future president of the US.

Then those American children with high false self-esteem turn 18 and reality bites, which may explain the high incidence of drug and alcohol use in the US.

Then there is Frankenstein of Humanitarianism — armed nation building where Western democracies are willing to start wars to create nations that will support the West’s concept of Humanitarianism. This mutated arm of Humanitarianism led to the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Return to The Flaws of Democracy and Humanitarianism – Part 4


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

The Flaws of Democracy and Humanitarianism – Part 4/7

December 15, 2010

A Western activist Blog, Left Coast Voices, posted a piece about Liu Xiabo, a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, who won the latest Nobel Peace Prize.

My response to the post in Left Coast Voices that supported Liu Xiabo continues.

When America was still a republic, convicted criminals were quickly executed within a matter of weeks.

Today, in the democracy that has replaced the US republic, it takes more than a decade for a convicted monster to reach the death chamber at a cost of millions of US dollars.

For comparison, before Macao was returned to mainland China in 1999, the Chinese triads in Macao were having a street war over control of the Portuguese colony. There were shootings and killings almost daily. Often, honest citizen were caught in the crossfire and killed.

The streets weren’t safe.

Representatives of the People’s Republic of China approached the leaders of these gangs in Macao and told them what would happen if the violence and killing continued. The day China took possession of Macao from Portugal, the gang wars in Macao stopped along with the killings.

Western style Christian influenced Humanitarianism is the belief that the individual is more important than society.

In theory, humanitarian work is simple: “you help people in need”.

However, this simple concept of individuals helping individuals turned into a monster with many faces such as the civil-rights movement in the US when it mutated into a quota system for minorities getting jobs or being accepted into universities while rejecting better-qualified individuals from racial groups (Caucasians and Asians) that were not considered downtrodden and disadvantaged.

Return to The Flaws of Democracy and Humanitarianism – Part 3


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

Twin Disasters Shine a Light on Bias

April 10, 2010

In China, a coalmine is flooded and traps more than a hundred. The Huffington Post reports this and says, “The real issue for the government (China’s) is to learn the lessons from this…The fundamental issue is, the miners should never have been put in this situation in the first place.”

In another piece, “A West Virginia coal mine explosion demands action”, Washington Post. “A huge explosion at the Upper Big Branch coalmine…claimed the lives of 25 miners.” This happened even after Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response act to make it safer.

After the US Congress passed this tougher law, the company that owned the West Virginia mine was cited with several safety violations prior to the explosion but was allowed to continue operating.

It seems the miners didn’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs. True said, “Interesting how the West Virginia state police are necessary to allow the mining company CEO to speak now. He probably wouldn’t need them if the miners had been allowed to speak months ago.”

The US Bill of Rights protects freedom of speech but that freedom was written to protect US citizens from the government—not to protect people from corporations. The Huffington Post was right about one thing, “The miners should have never been put in this situation in the first place.”

See Human Rights the Chinese Way

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