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

China Moving – Part 2/2

January 5, 2011

 To maintain perspective, I will start this segment about poverty in China by citing the CIA World Factbook. The CIA report says that only 2.8% of China’s population lives in “absolute poverty”, while reporting that 12% live in poverty in the US.

India’s listing says 25% live in poverty. The poverty percentage for the United Kingdom (Britain) was fourteen. Zambia, the highest poverty rate I saw was at 86%.

The CIA says, “National estimates of the percentage of the population falling below the poverty line are based on surveys of sub-groups, with the results weighted by the number of people in each group. Definitions of poverty vary considerably among nations. For example, rich nations generally employ more generous standards of poverty than poor nations.

In fact, the 2010 Global Hunger Index says there were 925 million hungry people in the world. The index ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with zero being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst.

China’s score was nine.

Al Jazeera’s Samah El-Shahat says, “The Chinese economic miracle dominates headlines around the world.… The economy there is predicted to grow at 8% up to 2010 and beyond, which is an incredible rate of development.”

To make this happen, people migrated to where the jobs are creating crowded cities and empty villages.

This segment starts out in Sichuan Province on a family farm where bringing in the crop falls to a young girl and her grandmother, Wei Shu Bin.

Wei Shu Bin says the young girl’s parents are away working in the city to earn money—”that is their way of taking care of me.”

In fact, the money sent home from the city has transformed the family’s life in the countryside. Before the parents went away, the family lived in a hut with a thatched roof reminiscent of the middle ages in Europe.

Today, they live in a larger house, but most of the village people are very old or very young because 80% have gone to work elsewhere.

Yang Xui Ying in the village market says, “We keep pigs and grow vegetables for sale in the market. We can support ourselves.”

The reason stated for so many leaving the villages to work in the cities is to provide a better future for their children so they can attend school. However, there is a downside to not having parents at home—the crime rate among rural Chinese teens has gone up.

To build a modern China with improved lifestyles requires sacrifice and hard work. It doesn’t come free.

Return to China Moving – Part 1


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.

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