On January 13, five experts on China met with President Obama to discuss human rights and reform ahead of a state visit by Chinese president Hu Jintao. Jianying Zha, a writer and expert on Chinese pop culture and media and the India China Institute’s representative in China, was part of this group and offered her views and advice.
Zha began by remarking on the parallels and differences between India and China on democracy and modes of development and mentioned the work of ICI Fellows as a source of information and insight. She stated that China was currently experiencing a moment of great pride and great anxiety, , pride over the economic achievements of the past 30 years and anxiety over the challenges of fighting corruption and inequality, further developing the economy, and advancing reform. At the same time, debates have been taking place about democracy as the people have grown ever more conscious of their rights. Zha also noted that human rights are guaranteed by the Chinese constitution and that lively discussions have been occurring among the Chinese about how to implement relevant provisions.
Zha advised President Obama on the importance of cultural sensitivity in addressing human rights, explaining that Chinese citizens are highly nationalistic and can be prickly about Western criticism.
The timing of Zha’s analysis proved very well timed: soon after Zha’s remarks, President Obama spoke publicly to Chinese President Hu Jintao about that nation’s slow progress on human rights.