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Justice, wrongs and rights: understanding traditional and liberal conceptions of justice through the lens of contemporary Chinese advocacy initiatives

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJustice
Subtitle of host publicationthe China Experience
EditorsElisa Nesossi, Flora Sapio, Susan Trevaskes, Sarah Biddulph
PublisherCambridge University Press
Chapter9
Pages229-256
ISBN (Electronic)9781108115919
DOIs
Published1 Aug 2017

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Abstract

Contemporary complaints and protest practices use both the concept of yuan (冤) - ‘a wrong,’ a ‘tort’, an ‘injustice’ — and that of rights. Addressing this dualism, this essay argues that yuan and rights reflect different, competing conceptions of the interpretive concept of justice. Seen here as older and younger parts of a moral counter-tradition, they both challenge official interpretations of the Chinese tradition, which generally advances arguments about harmony and order, and which can be used to rationalise repression in the name of ‘preserving [social] stability (weiwen 维稳).’ The different conceptions of justice represented by yuan and rights also correspond to different goals and strategies of political resistance to repression. Differences are manifest in particular on the question of whether and to what extent violent resistance against a repressive government can be justified. I tentatively outline one yuan-based and two rights-based views of this question and argue that liberal movements clearly limit or even wholly reject the right of violent resistance in contrast to the generally more vindictive yuan-based initiatives, which remain centred in the expectation that good and evil will have their just rewards (shan e you bao 善恶有报).

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