Seeing the world criticise China's disregard for human rights is edifying on the one hand, and irritating on the other. It's not that China doesn't deserve international condemnation. Rather, the thing that annoys me is how selectively international condemnation gets doled out.
Last I checked, the US's human rights record wasn't that flash. In Atlanta 1996 as in Bei Jing this year, the embarrassingly poor were swept off the streets for the aesthetic pleasure of tourists and TV audiences. Guantanamo, the death penalty, illegal invasions of other sovereign nations...I could go on, but I'm getting bored.
China's awful human rights practices are bound up with its rapid industrialisation within a globalising capitalist economy. 'Civilised' Western nations such as the US and Britain weren't all that nice to their own citizens during industrialisation; but because they did it a couple of hundred years ago, they don't feel much need to dwell on the exploitation of workers, slavery, colonialism and brutal military repression on which their wealth was built. It was in large part through these practices that today's superpowers gained the global preeminence that China aspires to.
I'm not saying that because the US, Britain and various European nations mistreated their own and other countries' citizens, China should now get its turn. But I do have some misgivings about the international criticism of the Chinese.
First of all, these criticisms can lapse into simple racism: we can be tempted to stop looking at the political and economic big picture, and instead think of the Chinese as strange, backward, savage people. Secondly, we can get caught up feeling righteous about how civilised 'we' are, and pay less attention to the human rights violations going on closer to home; eg, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Thirdly, we can forget about our own complicity in Chinese human rights abuses as participants in a global economy. We - myself included - wear clothing made by Chinese children. We ship our recycled plastics to China, where they give off toxic fumes during processing, shortening the lives of the women workers who process them. These children and women don't do such terrible jobs for fun. Desperate poverty and brutal repression make sure that the Chinese provide those cheap goods and services we Western consumers enjoy.
Good on those who are speaking out against Chinese human rights abuses - I hope they'll continue their important work. I hope they'll also encourage us to look in the mirror.