BEIJING—The Chinese government has issued a report that takes a hard look at human rights abuses in the United States. Among many other gripes, China takes a very dim view of the fact that the U.S. allows so much online porn to flow unimpeded to its citizens. Such unfettered proliferation of porn, warns the report, "severely harms American children.” Social conservatives in the States will surely agree with that assessment, even if the godless communists have very different reasons for making it.
The Chinese report is in part a reaction to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report, which usually has some rather harsh things to say about China’s record on the subject. It would be almost unthinkable for China not to return the favor, which it did this year just a few days after the State Department issued its 2010 report. The quid pro quo is in fact freely admitted by the Chinese.
“As in previous years,” reads the opening of the China’s report, prepared by the Information Office of the State Council, “the [U.S.] reports are full of distortions and accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China. However, the United States turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it. The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010 is prepared to urge the United States to face up to its own human rights issues.”
The 12-page illumination of alleged ills endured by normal Americans contains a dizzying amount of statistics culled from sources both reliable and questionable. Read without taking the time to evaluate the attributions, however, one easily comes away with the idea that surviving through to adulthood in the United States is a great acheivement in and of itself.
The opening sentences of the sections tell the story:
* The United States reports the world's highest incidence of violent crimes, and its people's lives, properties and personal security are not duly protected
* Citizens’ privacy has been undermined.
* Abuse of violence and torturing suspects to get confession is serious in the U. S. law enforcement.
* The United States has always called itself "land of freedom," but the number of inmates in the country is the world' s largest.
* Wrongful conviction occurred quite often in the United States.
* The U.S. regards itself as "the beacon of democracy." However, its democracy is largely based on money.
* While advocating Internet freedom, the U.S. in fact imposes fairly strict restrictions on cyberspace.
* Unemployment rate in the United States has been stubbornly high.
* Proportion of American people living in poverty has risen to a record high.
* People in hunger increased sharply.
* Number of homeless Americans increased sharply.
* The number of American people without health insurance increased progressively every year.
* Racial discrimination, deep-seated in the United States, has permeated every aspect of social life.
* Minorities do not enjoy the same political status as white people.
* Racial discrimination is evident in the law enforcement and judicial systems.
* Immigrants' rights and interests are not guaranteed.
* Gender discrimination against women widely exists in the United States.
* Women in the United States often experience sexual assault and violence.
* Women are also victims of domestic violence.
* Women's health rights are not properly protected in the United States.
* The United States has a notorious record of international human rights violations.
* Children in the U.S. live in poverty.
* Violence against children is very severe.
* Children’s physical and mental health is not ensured.
* The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused huge civilian casualties.
* The U.S. counter-terrorism missions have been haunted by prisoner abuse scandals.
Tea Party patriots will likely see items on the above list with which they heartily agree, as will more than a few liberals. Both are greatly concerned about the direction of the country, especially with a "secret socialist" (or liberal turncoat) at the helm. But human rights are always in the eye of the beholder. If I believe I am free, I am more likely to believe that my fellow citizens are, too. If I believe I am enslaved, I am more likely to accept the idea that my fellow citizens are, as well. These self-centered assumptions, which often lack any actual foundation, are the raw emotional material that is culled for inclusion in reports such as these, which as one commenter astutely noted, are mostly intended for consumption by audiences at home rather than abroad.
In a sense, then, the dueling reports from the U.S. State Department and China’s Information Office of the State Council are two sides of the same coin. Inflammatory on purpose, alienating by design, they nonetheless reveal a sad truth about modern governments: They each have a vested interest in propagating stereotypes about the other, even as they propagate equally fabricated stereotypes about themselves, and also that few if any can refrain from flexing their totalitarian muscles when the opportunity presents itself, no matter the political system that supports them.
This may be one reason why, when one looks at the popular struggles taking place around the world—whether in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Australia, the United States, Libya or the Congo—people who want to be truly free always look, sound and express themselves similarly, as do the governments and institutions that would abuse their power and influence in order to keep the blush of freedom from taking root and spreading.
That this happens in the United States as well as in places like China or Iran should come as no surprise. It certainly would not have done so to George Orwell, who placed Nineteen Eighty-Four not in the Soviet Union but in England, the birthplace of modern democracy. To recognize that fact does not mean that one fails to realize the profound difference between living under a despot and living in a republic. But it does remind one to be on guard against those who actually would snip away at cherished freedoms while loudly claiming their defense.
Indeed, it matters little in what country an overly restrictive law is enacted, and even less whether its passage is justified in order to counter the threat of foreign intervention or terrorist attack, or to protect the welfare of the family, the nation’s children, religious or secular morailty, or the survival of mankind itself. The result for the people remains the same: Speech is curtailed, personal and/or political freedom is limited, and individual liberty is slowly but surely eradicated.
This is why, getting back to the seminal issue of porn, access to sexual content, online or otherwise, which China and so many in the U.S. see as a fatal threat to society, is in fact central to individual freedom on a global basis. It is anything but an individual national, cultural or religious issue. Sexual expression, whether sending or receiving it, is a non-negotiable human right, and people in China, the United States and many other countries should be alarmed that so many of their leaders believe otherwise, and would not hesitate to take that expression away from them, or worse, control it for them. Sex trafficking, of course, is but another manifestation of the need to control others' sexuality for personal gain or pleasure, and opposing it is not in contradiction to support for sex workers rights.
So-called human rights reports like these can actually serve to drive that point home, and act as wake-up calls for the masses, whose ancestors were truly enslaved by the yoke of sexual control. That so many millions are equally yoked today is unacceptable. The real battle for the future of mankind is making sure we don’t allow a return to those good old days of sexual repression and control, no matter how many human rights reports raise red flags about the proliferation of porn.
Photo: Small figures depicting various sexual positions from an ancient Chinese sex relics exhibition