Crimson Correct in Not Bowing to Cultural Relativism for Chinese


I felt compelled to respond to the trio of letters to the editors published in The Crimson on Oct. 21 castigating the editors for their criticism of President Jiang and the current Chinese regime.

China is a regime which only a few years ago suppressed a peaceful protest with tanks and machine guns, then denied (and to this day still denies) that anything ever happened. It is engaging in a calculated program to destroy the culture of Tibet as part of its own imperialistic drives--and doing so with a ruthlessness never approached by the British in their Opium Wars. It systematically persecutes the members of a minority religion and defends itself as the victim of an international conspiracy. Does this sound familiar to anyone? If China--a nation with the world's most extensive system of political prisons, forced labor and secret police--is not "truly evil," then who is?

China, under the leadership of Jiang, has already demonstrated that it is an aggressive nation willing to brutally crush any form of internal dissent. It has already attempted to use its military to stifle democracy in Taiwan. It sells ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons components to Iran and North Korea. If human rights as basic as the right to non-violent political expression without fear of imprisonment, torture and execution are not applicable across cultural boundaries, then it seems to me that it is impossible to act for moral reasons in any situation whatsoever.

Let us examine the rhetoric of those who would act as apologists for the Chinese regime. They ask what authority we have to impose our definition of fundamental human rights of the individual upon China? Indeed, in the 1940s, who were we to force our definition of rights of the individual upon Germany? Unless you're a Tibetan (Jew) life is improving in China (Germany). China's culture values the rights of the group--Germany's valued discipline and obedience to the dictates of the state. The parallel is obvious.

Upon examination, the subtle racism of those who argue about "Asian human rights" is also clear. Americans are individuals who are concerned with our rights as such. Asians, on the other hand, aren't really individuals and don't have individual rights. If Asians are not quite individuals, then they are not quite human. Asians are, in this view, little more than worker drones willing to sacrifice themselves in an instant for the good of the state. This argument, is in essence, identical to the statements of people warning of "The Yellow Peril" in the 1950s. The Chinese regime is more than clever enough to use these beliefs against us.


Is modern China equivalent to Nazi Germany? Of course not. It is, however, a brutal, tyrannical regime. Modern China may be less evil than regimes we have faced in the past, but there is no one worse presently on the world scene. The United States, as the world's preeminent power and the world's oldest democracy, has an obligation to at the least make some effort to modify Chinese behavior. Engagement with the Chinese government may well be the most effective strategy for the United States to use to affect the Chinese government. Arguing that the people of China do not want the same rights that we enjoy, however, is nothing more than a betrayal of both those brave Chinese dissidents who attempt to change their country and look to us for help, and of those who have struggled to gain and preserve our own dearly bought freedom. --Gautam Mukunda '01