In Charter 08, a Call for Democracy in China

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The detention of two prominent intellectuals in Beijing this week, which Simon discusses below, was touched off by the release of “Charter 08,” a human rights manifesto signed by more than 300 Chinese scholars, activists, lawyers and retired officials. China scholar Perry Link has produced an English translation of the document, which is now up on the New York Review of Books website. Among the document’s 19 recommendations are calls for a new Chinese constitution, separation of political powers, direct elections, freedom to form political parties, free speech and reconciliation for those persecuted in previous political campaigns. In other words, it touches on just about every sensitive political topic in China.

Here’s a key passage:

The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

By departing from these values, the Chinese government’s approach to “modernization” has proven disastrous. It has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse. So we ask: Where is China headed in the twenty-first century? Will it continue with “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system? There can be no avoiding these questions.