Angle, S. C. (2005). Must We Choose Our Leaders? Human Rights and Political Participation in China. Journal Of Global Ethics.
Is political participation a human right? If so, in what form and to what degree? One answer to these questions is that everyone has the human right to participate in universal, free, and fair elections for the country’s leaders — as well as the rights to organize political parties, to run for election, to express political views, and so on. This answer is suggested by Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,1 and explicitly supported by the influential American philosopher Alan Gewirth [Gewirth 1978, p. 309]. If we are persuaded to accept this answer, then there looks to be a vast gulf between Chinese reality and the human right to political participation. The thesis of this essay is that Chinese citizens are not so far from enjoying their human right to political participation as this scenario implies. I argue for this conclusion from two directions. First, I dispute Gewirth’s answer to the question of what manner of participation is required by human rights, and show that other forms of participation can also satisfy his rigorous premises. Second, I survey contemporary Chinese political theory and political reality in order to see how much participation is officially or unofficially countenanced, and how much is really taking place. My conclusion is not that Chinese now enjoy the full human right of political participation, but rather that by combining a more nuanced view of what such a human right might be, with a richer and more charitable view of China, we can lay the groundwork for a more interesting and more productive cross-cultural dialogue on the universal demands of human rights.