As China's Communist Party celebrates its founding, it is stuck in an internal debate on whether to admit that values such as human rights are universal or merely Western. Aren't all good ideas universal?
If you ask Americans this Fourth of July weekend if so-called “American values” are really universal, they’d probably say “of course.”
Ask a high official in China, however, if civic values such as freedom and rule of law are universal and you’d likely ignite a firecracker of a debate. (If you were Chinese, you might be tossed in jail.)
China’s ruling Communist Party, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this month, is clearly divided over whether democratic ideals with Western origins are applicable to all. It’s an internal debate that affects not only the dissidents who champion universal values (pushi jiazhi), but also the selection of new party leaders in 2012 and the direction of Beijing’s halting political reforms.
The danger for the party in this debate? Embracing civic values as universal would undercut its claim as the sole authority over what is China’s correct path.
Party hard-liners speak instead of the “China model” or “Beijing consensus,” based on what the party says those are. At the very least, they acknowledge a need to Sinicize outside ideas – Marxism, mainly, or what is called “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
In the West, this notion that ideas can’t find fertile ground in all corners of humanity seems absurd. Civilization has soared on the wings of ideas that were always ready to be discovered by any willing thinker – not just those in the West – and that have stood the test of time.
As in math and physics, the best ideas on how to run a society can be anchored on all-inclusive, bedrock truths, such as the worth of each individual.