Rethinking the Debate on Universalism Versus Cultural Relativism Regarding Human Rights: The Case of China


This study aims to address the debate on universalism versus relativism regarding human rights over the case of China. By the end of the Cold War and with the increasing effects of globalization dynamics, the idea of human rights had become a controversial issue, and interventions in states that violate human rights have come to the agenda of international society. United States of America and the European Union have frequently mentioned the issue of human rights violations with regard to China. However, China has emphasized that no one should in- tervene with it on this issue, claiming up until the 1990s in the face of these allegations that the issue was its own internal affair. Meanwhile, China has tried to open a discussion about the universality of human rights through cultural values. China focuses on Asian values, claiming that human rights are a product of the Eurocentric Western modern world. This situation can be considered a challenge of postmodern and post-colonial theories that highlight cultural relativism, regarding the mainstream theories represented by realism and liberalism within the discipline of International Relations. However, using these critical theories may reproduce existing power relations by reducing them into a cultural context. This study seeks to reexamine China’s human rights understanding beyond the uni- versalism vs. relativism debate.


Human rights Asian values China cultural relativism universalism