The Debate Over Universal Values

The Economist covers how China is trying to determine the meaning of “universal values”:

The term “universal values”, or pushi jiazhi, is a new one in Chinese political debate—surprising given that concepts commonly associated with it, such as freedom, and human rights, have been bickered over incessantly for 30 years. Many Chinese scholars think the debate really took off in 2008 after an earthquake in Sichuan province that killed around 80,000 people. Ten days after the disaster, a liberal newspaper in the southern province of Guangdong, Southern Weekend, published an editorial that praised the government’s swift response. It said it had “honoured its commitments to its own people and to the whole world with respect to universal values”.

That single mention of the term was enough to enrage hardliners. A flurry of commentary appeared in Beijing newspapers and on conservative websites attacking the idea of universal values as a Western plot to undermine party rule. China was preparing to host the Olympics in August 2008 with the slogan, “one world, one dream”. But conservatives feared that embracing universal values would mean acknowledging the superiority of the West’s political systems. In September, after the games, the party’s own mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, weighed in. A signed article accused supporters of universal values of trying to westernise China and turn it into a laissez-faire economy that would no longer uphold “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.


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