How can we make sense of human rights in China’s authoritarian Party-State system? Eva Pils offers a nuanced account of this contentious area, examining human rights as a set of social practices. Drawing on a wide range of resources, including years of interaction with Chinese human rights defenders, Pils discusses what gives rise to systematic human rights violations, what institutional avenues of protection are available, and how social practices of human rights defence have evolved.
Three central areas are addressed: liberty and integrity of the person; 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, and that – contributing to a global trend – it is becoming more repressive. Yet, despite authoritarianism’s lengthening shadows, China’s human rights movement has so far proved resourceful and resilient. The trajectories discussed here will continue to shape the struggle for human rights in China and beyond its borders.