I. The Right to Subsistence--
The Foremost Human Right
The Chinese People
Long Fight for

It is a simple truth that, for any country or nation, the right to subsistence is the most important of all human rights, without which the other rights are out of the question. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person. In old China, aggression by imperialism and oppression by feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism deprived the people of all guarantee for their lives, and an uncountable number of them perished in war and famine. To solve their human rights problems, the first thing for the Chinese people to do is, for historical reasons, to secure the right to subsistence.

Without national independence, there would be no guarantee for the people's lives. When imperialist aggression became the major threat to their lives, the Chinese people had to win national independence before they could gain the right to subsistence. After the Opium War of 1840, China, hitherto a big feudal kingdom, was gradually turned into a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country. During the 110 years from 1840 to 1949, the British, French, Japanese, US and Russian imperialist powers waged hundreds of wars on varying scales against China, causing immeasurable losses to the lives and property of the Chinese people.

-- The imperialists massacred Chinese people in untold numbers during their aggressive wars. In 1900, the troops of the Eight Allied Powers -- Germany, Japan, Britain, Russia, France, the United States, Italy and Austria -- killed, burned and looted, razing Tanggu, a town of 50,000 residents, to utter ruins, reducing Tianjin's population from one million to 100,000, killing countless people when they entered Beijing, where more than 1,700 were slaughtered at Zhuangwangfu alone. During Japan's full-scale invasion of China which began in 1937, more than 21 million people were killed or wounded and 10 million people mutilated to death. In the six weeks beginning from December 13, 1937, the Japanese invaders killed 300,000 people in Nanjing.

-- The imperialists sold, maltreated and caused the death of numerous Chinese laborers, plunging countless people in old China into an abyss of misery. According to incomplete statistics, more than 12 million indentured Chinese laborers were sold to various parts of the world from the mid-19th century through the 1920s. Coaxed and abducted, these laborers were thrown into lockups, known as "pigsties," where they were branded with the names of their would-be destinations. During the 1852-58 period, 40,000 people were put in such "pigsties" in Shantou alone, and more than 8,000 of them were done to death there. Equally horrifying was the death toll of ill-treated laborers in factories and mines run by imperialists across China. During the Japanese occupation, no less than 2 million laborers perished from maltreatment and exhaustion in Northeast China. Once the laborers died, their remains were thrown into mountain gullies or pits dug into bare hillsides. So far more than 80 such massive pits have been found, with over 700,000 skeletons of the victims in them.

-- Under the imperialists' colonial rule, the Chinese people had their fill of humiliation and there was no personal dignity to speak of. The foreign aggressors enjoyed "extraterritoriality" in those days. On December 24, 1946 Peking University student Shen Chong was raped by William Pierson, an American GI, but, to the great indignation of the Chinese people, the criminal, handled unilaterally by the American side, was acquitted and released. Imperialist powers exercised administrative, legislative, judicial, police and financial powers in the "concessions" they had set up in China, turning them into "states within a state" that were thoroughly independent of the Chinese administrative and legal systems. In 1885, foreign aggressors put up a signboard at the entrance of a park in the French concession; in a blatant insult to the Chinese people, it read, "Chinese and dogs not admitted."

-- Forcing more than 1,100 unequal treaties on China, the imperialists plundered Chinese wealth on a large scale. Statistics show that, by way of these unequal treaties, the foreign aggressors made away with more than 100 billion taels of silver as war indemnities and other payments in the past century. Through the Sino-British Treaty of Nanking, the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Shimonoseki, the International Protocol of 1901 and five other such treaties alone, 1,953 million taels of silver in indemnity were extorted, 16 times the 1901 revenue of the Qing government. The Treaty of Shimonoseki alone earned Japan 230 million taels of silver in extortion money, about four and a half times its annual national revenue. The losses resulting from the destruction and looting by the invaders in wars against China were even more incalculable. During Japan's full-scale war of aggression against China (1937-45), 930 Chinese cities were occupied, causing US$62 billion in direct losses and US$500 billion in indirect losses. With their state sovereignty impaired and their social wealth plundered or destroyed, the Chinese people were deprived of the basic conditions for survival.

In face of the crumbling state sovereignty and the calamities wrought upon their lives, for over a century the Chinese people fought the foreign aggressors in an indomitable struggle for national salvation and independence. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement, the Boxers Movement and the Revolution of 1911 which overthrew the Qing Dynasty broke out during this period. These revolutionary movements dealt heavy blows to imperialist influences in China, but they failed to deliver the nation from semi-colonialism. A fundamental change took place only after the Chinese people, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, overthrew the Kuomintang reactionary rule and founded the People's Republic of China. After its birth in 1921, the Communist Party of China set the clear-cut goal in its political program to "overthrow the oppression by international imperialism and achieve the complete independence of the Chinese nation" and to "overthrow the warlords and unite China into a real democratic republic"; it led the people in an arduous struggle culminating in victory in the national democratic revolution.

The founding of the People's Republic of China eradicated the forces of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism in the Chinese mainland, put an end to the nation's history of dismemberment, oppression and humiliation at the hands of alien powers for well over a century and to long years of turbulence characterized by incessant war and social disunity, and realized the people's cherished dream of national independence and unification. The Chinese nation, which makes up one-fourth of the world's population, is no longer one that the aggressors could kill and insult at will. The Chinese people have stood up as the masters of their own country; for the first time they have won real human dignity and the respect of the whole world. The Chinese people have won the basic guarantee for their life and security.

National independence has protected the Chinese people from being trodden under the heels of foreign invaders. However, the problem of the people's right to subsistence can be truly solved only when their basic means of livelihood are guaranteed.

To eat their fill and dress warmly were the fundamental demand of the Chinese people who had long suffered cold and hunger. Far from meeting this demand, successive regimes in old China brought even more disasters to the people. In those days, landlords and rich peasants who accounted for 10 percent of the rural population held 70 percent of the land, while the poor peasants and farm laborers who accounted for 70 percent of the rural population owned only 10 percent of the land. The bureaucrat-comprador bourgeoisie who accounted for only a small fraction of the population monopolized 80 percent of the industrial capital and controlled the economic lifelines of the country. The Chinese people were repeatedly exploited by land rent, taxes, usury and industrial and commercial capital. The exploitation and poverty they suffered were of a degree rarely seen in other parts of the world. According to 1932 statistics, the Chinese peasants were subjected to 1,656 kinds of exorbitant taxes and levies, which took away 60-90 percent of their harvests. The people's miseries were exacerbated and their lives made all the harsher by the reactionary governments who, politically corrupt and impotent, surrendered China's sovereign rights under humiliating terms and served as tools of foreign imperialist rule, and by the separatist regime of warlords who were embroiled in endless wars. It was estimated that 80 percent of the populace in old China suffered to varying degrees of starvation and tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands in some cases -- died of it every year. A major natural disaster invariably left the land strewn with corpses of hunger victims. More than 3.7 million lives were lost when floods hit east China in 1931. In 1943, a crop failure in Henan Province took the lives of 3 million people and left 15 million subsisting on grass and bark and struggling on the verge of death. After the victory of the War of Resistance Against Japan, the reactionary Kuomintang government launched a civil war, fed on the flesh and blood of the people and caused total economic collapse. In 1946, 10 million people died of hunger countrywide. In 1947, 100 million, or 22 percent of the national population then, were under the constant threat of hunger.

Ever since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have always placed the task of helping the people get enough to wear and eat on the top of the agenda. For the first three years of the People's Republic, the Chinese people, led by their government, concentrated their efforts on healing the wounds of war and quickly restored the national economy to the record level in history. On this basis, China lost no time to complete the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicraft industry and capitalist industry and commerce, thus uprooting the system of exploitation, instituting the system of socialism and, for the first time in history, turning the people into masters of the means of production and beneficiaries of social wealth. This fired the people with soaring enthusiasm for building a new China and a new life, emancipated the social productive forces and set the economy on the track of unprecedented growth. Since 1979, China has switched the focus of its work to economic construction, begun reform and opening to the outside world, and set the goal of building socialism with Chinese characteristics. This has further expanded the social productive forces and enabled the nation to basically solve the problem of feeding and clothing its 1.1 billion people.

Tilling 7 percent of the world's total cultivated land -- averaging only 1.3 mu (one mu equals one-fifteenth of one hectare) per capita as against 12.16 mu in the United States and the world's average of 4.52 mu -- China has nevertheless succeeded in feeding a population that makes up 22 percent of the world's total. Contrary to some Western politicians' prediction that no Chinese government could solve the problem of feeding its people, socialist China has done it by its own efforts. The past 40-odd years have witnessed a marked increase in the average annual per-capita consumption of major consumer goods despite a yearly average population increase of 14 million. A survey shows that the daily caloric intake of food per resident in China was 2,270 in 1952, 2,311 in 1978 and 2,630 in 1990, approaching the world's average.

The life-span of the Chinese people has lengthened and their health improved considerably. According to statistics, the population's average life expectancy increased from 35 years before liberation to 70 years in 1988, higher than the average level in the world's medium-income countries, while the death rate dropped from 33 per thousand before liberation to 6.67 per thousand in 1990, which was one of the lowest death rates in the world. China's 1987 infant mortality of 31 per thousand approached the level of high-income countries. The health of the Chinese people, especially the physical development of youngsters, has greatly improved as compared with the situation in old China. An average 15-year-old boy in 1979 was 1.8 centimeters taller and 2.1 kilograms heavier than his counterparts living during the 1937-41 period; and an average girl of the same age in 1979 was 1.3 centimeters taller and 1 kilogram heavier. Since 1979, the health of the Chinese people has improved further. The label on old China, "sick man of East Asia," has long been consigned to the dustbin of history.

The problem of food and clothing having been basically solved, the people have been guaranteed with the basic right to subsistence. This is a historical achievement made by the Chinese people and government in seeking and protecting human rights.

However, to protect the people's right to subsistence and improve their living conditions remains an issue of paramount importance in China today. China has gained independence, but it is still a developing country with limited national strength. The preservation of national independence and state sovereignty and the freedom from imperialist subjugation are, therefore, the very fundamental conditions for the survival and development of the Chinese people. Although China has basically solved the problem of food and clothing, its economy is still at a fairly low level, its standard of living falls considerably short of that in developed countries, and the pressure of a huge population and relative per-capita paucity of resources will continue to restrict the socio-economic development and the improvement of the people's lives. The people's right to subsistence will still be threatened in the event of a social turmoil or other disasters. Therefore it is the fundamental wish and demand of the Chinese people and a long-term, urgent task of the Chinese government to maintain national stability, concentrate their effort on developing the productive forces along the line which has proven to be successful, persist in reform and opening to the outside world, strive to rejuvenate the national economy and boost the national strength, and, on the basis of having solved the problem of food and clothing, secure a well-off livelihood for the people throughout the country so that their right to subsistence will no longer be threatened.