BOSTON–Hurst Hannum is a professor of international law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University. At Tufts, Hannum has studied human rights in China for the last decade and recently spent 2 ½ years in Hong Kong studying the oldest culture in the world. On Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008, as part of the Barbara and Richard M. Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies, Hannum came to Suffolk University to speak about his findings on human rights in China.Wearing a gray suit and blue tie, Hannum spoke to a packed house inside Sargent Hall at the Suffolk Law School. He first gave listeners background information on human rights in China and how people are treated. “China has the largest population in the world with 1.3 billion people,” he said, “but they have very little say on what goes on in their country.” He explained that much of China is uninhabitable so most of the population is crowded in small areas. Therefore, the government can control the population from outside these areas in comfortable, less congested living quarters.
Hannum explained that Americans have a very different view of what China is trying to accomplish as a government than what actually is being accomplished. “China is much more concerned with capitalism and making money than buying into democracy.” What China wants the rest of the world to believe is that they are making an effort to become diplomatic, but in reality the Chinese government has no intentions of changing its ways. Hannum surprised most people by saying that China has more billionaires than anywhere else in the world. Unlike in the United States where you see multi-billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet donate money to numerous foundations, China’s wealthy keep their money to themselves.
Throughout time, China has not let its people speak out against the government and voice their opinion. Ramifications include imprisonment, public beatings, and even death. As part of the Olympic agreement to have the games held in Beijing, protesters could not be punished for using coverage of the games to speak out against Chinese government. Chinese authorities announced that they would set aside a “protest zone” where citizens could apply to protest and have their opinions heard without punishment. Hannum spoke about the Olympic games and how thousands of Chinese citizens took the opportunity to protest against the lack of human rights in China. As agreed upon, no police or government officials bothered protesters throughout the Olympics. As the games came to an end and all visiting countries left, every citizen who applied to protest was thrown in jail without a fair trial.
The recent human rights movement in China was directed toward stopping the illegal search and seizures of homes and land from Chinese citizens. Hannum explained that the government commonly took land and homes away from innocent citizens for no reason. Currently under the new human rights laws in China, cases like these can be brought to court. The problem is that the judicial system is corrupt and judges are controlled by the government. Hannum stated that this makes China look like they’re making improvements in human rights by granting trials, but since the trials are unfair, no progress has been made.
Most would think that the United Nations would step in and do something about the lack of human rights in China. What Hannum explained and most don’t know, is that China is part of the United Nation’s human rights movement, but only to undermine what the UN is trying to accomplish. There are many reasons the UN has not taken any military action against China, including the fact that the US is the biggest and most powerful army of any country in the UN and owes China trillions of dollars. It would be nearly impossible to get the US to make a stand against the Chinese government. Also, the Chinese has a very large and powerful army that possesses nuclear weapons.
Hannum’s speech gave light on the lack of human rights in China. He left listeners with a few words about the future of China saying, “The country of China is so large even if the government wanted to practice human rights, it would be a very difficult and long process.” No one knows what is going to happen with China even two years from now, but with more studies like Hannum’s, Chinese citizens may have a chance to live free from under government control sometime in the future.