As the world watches China‘s crackdown on the coronavirus, many are also wondering about the state of human rights in the country. One manifestation of this is the recent trend of protestors holding blank sheets of paper, which has become a powerful symbol of disobedience. Some now refer to the protests as the “white paper revolution.” Marie Holzman, a sinologist and specialist in contemporary China and Chinese dissidence, has said that this is the first time since 1989 that this kind of slogan reclaiming freedom of speech has appeared. More than a symbol of disobedience, these blank sheets of paper could be interpreted as a historic movement.
As China continues to grow as a world power, there is an increasing need for transparency and accountability from the Chinese government in regard to human rights. International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are at the forefront of holding the Chinese government accountable for its lack of freedom of speech and other human rights violations. These organizations are essential in promoting international human rights norms and standards, and in holding governments accountable for their actions. Amnesty International stated “The freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any free society, and it is a fundamental human right. The Chinese government’s restrictions on freedom of speech are a blatant violation of international human rights norms.”
Some possible solutions from a political point of view could include working to improve communication and understanding between the Chinese government and its people, increasing transparency in the Chinese government’s decision-making process, and protecting the rights of Chinese citizens to free expression. Taking into account Chinese culture and context could include engaging in public education campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of speech, working with Chinese media outlets to help them report on sensitive topics in a responsible and ethical manner, and partnering with Chinese civil society organizations to promote and protect freedom of expression.
The results of a lack of freedom of speech can be disastrous for a country. When people are not allowed to discuss and debate issues openly, it can lead to a build-up of resentment and frustration. This can eventually lead to social unrest and even violence. We are witnessing the unfolding of this process right now in China. Ed Lawrence, a BBC journalist covering a protest in Shanghai on Sunday, was also detained and arrested by Chinese officials. According to the BBC, he was beaten and kicked by police during his detention and imprisoned for several hours before being freed.
Additionally, a lack of freedom of speech can stifle creativity and prevent progress. There is a strong correlation between a lack of freedom of speech and a decline in democratic institutions. A country with little to no freedom of speech is more likely to be an authoritarian regime. Additionally, a lack of freedom of speech can lead to increases in crime and corruption. Improving the freedom of speech in China is essential for the protection of human rights and for the country’s overall development. By protecting freedom of speech, citizens of China can have access to a wider range of information, be able to express their opinions freely, and contribute to the improvement of their country.
The Chinese government’s restrictions on freedom of speech severely violate international human rights norms and have a detrimental effect on human rights in the country. This can lead to self–censorship, social unrest, and violence, as well as the stifling of creativity and progress. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between a lack of freedom of speech and authoritarian regimes and increased crime and corruption. Improving freedom of speech in China is a necessary step toward protecting human rights and promoting the country‘s overall development. We must all work to ensure that people in China are able to freely express their opinions without fear of retribution. This includes individuals, organizations, and governments around the world taking action to uphold human rights and promote the free exchange of ideas.