Confucianism and Human Rights: Rhetoric and Reality

  • Ivy Y. Y. Lau (Autor/in)
  • Richard Cullen (Autor/in)

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With the end of the Cold War, international politics has been dominated by human rights issues. One feature of these discussions has been a lengthy debate about the merits of “cultural relativity” and “universalism” in framing human rights regimes. A sub-theme has been the validity of so-called “Asian values” as a factor in the State-citizen, mediating equation. A fairly common Western view has been that cultural relativism and, especially, Asian values, are little more than opportunistic legitimation devices for authoritarian political structures. The authors argue that this approach is both too simplistic and counter-productive. The article focusses on the very long-standing influence of Confucian values in China and their impact, historically and more currently, on mediatmg the State-citizen relationship. The article concludes that it is very important to be watchful for the misuse of “cultural” arguments to water down human rights. But it is equally important to take cultural factors seriously in this debate and not to dismiss them with slogans.