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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE


Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Human Rights: Taiwan and China in comparison

With Mr Leeshai Lemish (London School of Economics)

Series: Seminar on Taiwan in Comparative Perspective 

Date: Thursday 16 November 2006, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Seligman Library (Room A607), Old Building, London School of Economics (LSE)

Chair: Professor Stephan Feuchtwang (Taiwan Culture Research Programme)


More than 100 miles separate Taiwan and China's human rights regimes. There are many examples of the complex contrasts, points of intersection and cross-strait fertilisation imbedded in contemporary human rights realities in China and Taiwan: A high-ranking Chinese official leaves his tour group and seeks asylum in Taiwan because he wishes to quit the Communist Party; Chinese state television broadcasts images of Taipei protests, warning of the potential "chaos" that democracy would bring to China; elderly Taiwanese women in Kaohsiung spend their afternoons placing phone calls to Chinese labour camps in Heilongjiang; Falun Gong practitioners are tortured in Chinese jails, while in Taiwan they are invited to teach the practice in prisons as part of inmates' rehabilitation process.

Before returning to the contemporary, this paper starts with a brief history of the divergent paths taken by Taiwan and the PRC since 1949 and what these differences have meant in terms of human rights advancement, atrocities, and discourse. In particular, what kind of foundation have the Leninist structure of the political system in the PRC, on the one hand, and democratic transition in Taiwan, on the other, laid for human rights protection on both sides of the strait? What do these structural differences bode for the future of human rights in Taiwan and the PRC, and when do structural differences become cultural differences? Next, the paper broadly outlines current human rights challenges on both the island and the mainland, addressing the qualitative and quantitative disparities between the two conditions. Finally, this paper closely examines a contemporary case study that is particularly telling, not only of the contrasts but also of the complex interactions across the strait - Falun Gong in China and Taiwan. Beyond inferences that can be made about the compatibility of human rights with different cultures, Confucian ones in particular, what implications might cross-strait dynamics have for the transformation of human rights, civil society, and political culture in the region?

About the speaker

Mr Leeshai Lemish has an MSc in International Relations from the LSE and a BA in Asian Studies from Pomona College, California. He has worked on projects relating to human rights in China for five years, focusing on issues of policy, rule of law, torture, and religious freedom. He has assisted with human rights legal work in Hong Kong and helped Chinese refugees in Cambodia. While studying at Taiwan's Cheng-chi University and working in Taipei, he participated in and observed human rights rallies and seminars, and engaged with activists on the island. He has testified on human rights in China at various forums, including a US Congressional hearing, and has presented at academic conferences his research about Western media's coverage of human rights in China.