Chung-Shu Lo: A Confucian Approach to Human Rights

The following excerpt is from an essay, contributed to the 1948 UNESCO symposium on human rights, by Chinese scholar, Chung-Shu Lo.

Before Considering the general principles [of rights], I would like to point out that the problem of human rights was seldom discussed by Chinese thinkers of the past, at least in the same way as it was in the West. There was no open declaration of human rights in China, either by individual thinkers or by political constitutions, until this conception was introduced from the West. In fact, the early translators of Western political philosophy found it difficult to arrive at a Chinese equivalent for the term "rights".

The term we use to translate "rights" now is two words "Chuan Li", which literally means "Power and Interest" and which, I believe, was first coined by a Japanese writer on Western Public Law in 1868, and later adopted by Chinese writers. This of course does not mean that the Chinese never claimed - human rights or enjoyed the basic rights of man.

In fact, the idea of human rights developed very early in China, and the right of the people to [safeguard] against oppressive rulers was established [very early on].

"Revolution" is not regarded as a dangerous word to use, but a word to which high ideals are attached, and it was constantly used to indicate a justifiable claim by the people to overthrow bad rulers; the Will of the People is even considered to be the Will of Heaven. In the "Book of History", an old Chinese classic', it is states,

Heaven sees as our people see; Heaven hears as our people hear. Heaven is compassionate toward the people. What the people desire, Heaven will be found to bring about".

A ruler has a duty to Heaven to take care of the interests of his people. In loving his people, the ruler follows the will of Heaven. So it says in the same book,

Heaven loves the people; and the Sovereign mast obey Heaven.

When the ruler no longer rules for the welfare of the people, it is the right of the people to revolt, against him and dethrone him.

Read the rest of the essay, here.

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