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Human Rights in China: A Social Practice in the Shadows of Authoritarianism

ISBN: 978-1-5095-0070-3
256 pages
November 2017, Polity
Human Rights in China: A Social Practice in the Shadows of Authoritarianism (1509500707) cover image


How can we make sense of human rights in China's authoritarian system? In this insightful book, China law expert Eva Pils offers a nuanced account of this contentious area, examining human rights as a set of social practices involving a variety of actors, including officials of the system and civil society actors. Drawing on a wide range of resources including years of interaction with Chinese human rights defenders, Pils discusses sources of human rights violations, as well as institutional avenues of protection and social practices of human rights defence.

Three central areas are given special attention: liberty and integrity of the person and the right not to be tortured; freedom of thought and expression; and inequality and socio-economic rights. Pils argues that the Party-State system is inherently opposed to human rights principles in all these areas. Yet, civil society actors have developed social practices of human rights advocacy whose political significance is not entirely dependent on the Party-State. Despite authoritarianism's lengthening shadows, China's human rights movement has so far proved resourceful and resilient, and the trajectories discussed in this book will continue to shape ongoing struggles.
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Table of Contents

  • Map
  • Chronology
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1. Human Rights and Competing Conceptions of Justice, Law and Power in China
  • 2. Institutional Avenues of Human Rights Advocacy
  • 3. Liberty and Life
  • 4. Expression and Thought
  • 5. Inequality and Socio-economic Rights
  • 6. Rights Defenders
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
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Author Information

Eva Pils is Reader in Transnational Law at King's College London.
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"Justice, tradition, contention: only Eva Pils could assess each of these complex constructs in the context of contemporary China, but also argue effectively that human rights have evolved as a social practice. In addition to systematically eviscerating authoritarians' shallow claims to uphold the rule of law, Pils offers a rich view of bottom-up, extraordinarily persistent activism - and the prospect of change in China."
Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch

"This timely book reflects the ongoing shifts in China's human rights performance and offers insights into the larger ideological, procedural and institutional background in which lawyers in China carry out their struggles. Her sharp critiques of the Chinese system are not only legally valid and morally sound, but also theoretically relevant."
Hualing Fu, University of Hong Kong
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