China’s “Charter 08”

A few weeks ago, 303 prominent Chinese citizens put their signature to Charter 08 (零八宪章), which was a well-crafted statement of how they wished to see China develop into a free and democratic nation, which contributes to peace for humankind and progress toward human rights. Some of them are already paying the price for speaking out — several have been interrogated by the authorities and one remains under police custody.

Below is section II of the Charter, which spells out the fundamental principles that frame what they are asking for. The English translation by Perry Link follows it. The full Chinese version can be found here and the full English translation can be found here.

I salute these brave Chinese heroes. In fact, much of what they have written in their Charter is directly applicable to Singapore.









民主:最 基本的涵义是主权在民和民选政府。民主具有如下基本特点:(1)政权的合法性来自人民,政治权力来源于人民;(2)政治统治经过人民选择,(3)公民享有 真正的选举权,各级政府的主要政务官员必须通过定期的竞选产生。(4)尊重多数人的决定,同时保护少数人的基本人权。一句话,民主使政府成为”民有,民 治,民享”的现代公器。



Charter 08

II. Our Fundamental Principles

This is a historic moment for China, and our future hangs in the balance. In reviewing the political modernization process of the past hundred years or more, we reiterate and endorse basic universal values as follows:

Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights.
Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person — regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief — are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule.
Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.


Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.