H. I. Roth: P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

P. C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Roth, Hans Ingvar
320 S.
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Adrian Ruprecht

In this engaging book, Hans Ingvar Roth sheds new light on the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). He examines the critical role of the Chinese delegate Peng Chun Chang (1892−1957), or P.C. Chang, in the drafting process of the UDHR. In these troubled times for human rights, Roth's book serves as a reminder of the global nature of the genesis of human rights and the important, if still understudied, contribution of extra-European intellectuals to the UDHR. The book is divided into two parts. The first part traces P.C. Chang's life as a globetrotter and locates it within the tumultuous trajectory of Chinese history in the last decades of the nineteenth and the first of the twentieth centuries.

The first chapter narrates roughly the first thirty years of Chang's early life. The towering and uneasy influence of his sixteen years older brother Pooling, who had founded the Nanking Schools, and the Nanking University, with its educational milieu imbued with discipline and a strict sense of community, were, perhaps, the most important early influences in Chang's life. Chang was awarded a scholarship from the American Boxer Indemnity Reparation Fund and studied first at Clark University, later at Columbia University. He was active in the Chinese Students' Christian Association, a prolific writer, and a speaker at various conferences. During his studies, Chang attempted to reconcile Western science and technology with (colonial) modernity. After a brief return to China, he married and took up his doctoral research in the United States, deeply inspired by the famous American educationalist John Dewey.

The second chapter narrates Chang's life in the 1920s and 1930s. Chang returned to China where he became professor of Philosophy at Nankai University (1926−1937). He showed a deep interest in translating and adapting Western plays, especially from the Norwegian play writer Henrik Ibsen. Chang was exceptionally well connected within the Chinese intellectual scene and was, amongst other things, involved in Rabindranath Tagore's visit to China. Research and teaching stints in Chicago, Honolulu and Cambridge characterized Chang's life as a scholar. The second Chinese-Japanese War (1937-1945) Chang separated from his family. While he toured Europe and the United States as an official representative of China's Department of Foreign Affairs informing the world about Japan's brutal invasion, his wife fought to keep the family together in Asia. His propaganda tours led to his diplomatic postings in Turkey and Chile as Chinese ambassador.

The third chapter sketches out how Chang became a representative of the Republic of China in the newly founded United Nations as the resident chief delegate in the Economic and Social Council of the Nations. Due to the civil war in China, his position was repeatedly called into question by the Soviet Union and others. He resigned after the Kuomintang government fled to Formosa.

The fourth chapter serves as a conclusion of the first part. It reflects on the life of P.C. Chang as a "globetrotter" (p. 100) having lived and worked in many countries across the globe. During his final years, P. C. Chang became increasingly bitter, was socially isolated and lamented about the culture of consumption and materialism of the white middle-classes in the United States. He died of a heart attack at the age of 65 in Nutley, New Jersey. This chapter also sheds light on P.C. Chang's son Stanley whose memories and reminiscences form the basis for Roth's book.

The second part of the book attempts to illustrate Chang's pervasive influence in drafting the UDHR. Roth convincingly demonstrates the importance of Chang's contribution not only to the preamble and the crucial first article but also to many other central articles of the UDHR.

Chapter 5 serves as introductory chapter delineating the process leading up to the declaration and introducing the four other key figures in the drafting committee apart from Chang (Eleanor Roosevelt, René Cassin, Charles Malik, and John Humphrey). Roth stresses the intercultural and universal nature of the document as it was not only written by people from a wide range of countries but also emphasized the importance of people's self-identification and tolerance transcending a specific culture or group.

Chapter 6 focuses on Chang's ideas about ethics and human rights. Roth perceptively shows that Chang perceived the UDHR as being a "tool for moral education" (p. 163) and above all a "moral, pedagogical project"[3] (p. 165) rather than a mere legal document. Though human beings had an inherent and natural capacity for doing good, according to Chang, this 'good side' of human nature had to be continually educated, fostered and cultivated. He also laid stress not just on rights, but also on the duties of human beings. The concept of "brotherhood" in article 1 of the UDHR, expresses the responsibility of individuals towards the community and humanity at large. Importantly, Chang argued that human rights should not only be seen in a negative way in the sense that human rights violations should be decried and punitive measures discussed, but also in a positive way of building better people and better humans. With his "thin metaphysics" he was opposed to many of the other delegates, most notably Charles Malik.

The short Chapter 7 illustrates disagreements between Chang, Charles Malik, and René Cassin. While Chang frequently clashed with Charles Malik due to his opposition against any formulation that could be interpreted in a theistic or Christian sense, Roth is stressing that Chang was actually on good terms with his Lebanese counterpart. More tense was the relationship with the René Cassin with whom Chang had not only had many arguments, but also more fundamental differences. Like many Europeans, Cassin believed that human rights in the colonies could potentially create disorder and argued for a strong state following France's centralist state traditions while Chang advocated for a universal notion of human rights that included the colonies and stressed the educational values of human rights.

Chapter 8 discusses Chang's intercultural ethics and how they shaped the UDHR. Chang was critical about overemphasizing cultural differences of the East and the West. Instead, he sought to reconcile Western science and progress with Chinese self-development. Chang would often rely on Chinese proverbs and draw on Confucianism. Still, he could also identify with French Enlightenment, which he thought to have been profoundly inspired by Chinese thinkers through Jesuit literature in the eighteenth century. Roth convincingly demonstrates how Chang introduced the Chinese concept of ren into the UDHR. Ren can be roughly translated as "two-man mindedness" or sympathy as opposed to "one-man mindedness" or egotism. For Chang ren meant the raising of awareness for fellow human beings. The Chinese concept of ren was translated as "consciousness" in Article 1 of the UDHR. Chang felt that the humane? aspect of human rights should be emphasized. Chang considered the practical way of living and educating oneself as "the art of living" (p. 241).

Chapter 9 assesses Chang's triumphs, defeats and blind spots. Though Chang mostly "got his way" in Article 1 and several other key articles of the UDHR, he could not prevent terms with metaphysical connotations from being included into the UDHR. Several articles and additions he proposed and advocated were not accepted. Roth also uncovers Chang's blind spots as he did not seem to have been interested much in minorities or women's rights. On a personal level, he vigorously defended questionable Chinese social practices. He was opposed to his son marrying an American woman and strictly adhered to notions of class and social hierarchies. Roth concludes by describing Chang as a “cultural mediator” between East and West in both directions and by examining the relevance of the new material for understanding the UDHR.

Roth's contribution has to be commended for not falling into a nationalist narrative and not conflating "China" with Chang as others sometimes do.[1] The memories of Chang's son Stanley have enabled Roth to depict an exceedingly rich and complex portrait of Chang's personal life and his involvement in the drafting process of the UDHR. However, it would have been fruitful to locate P.C. Chang, his intellectual contribution and project in broader networks of intellectuals. One wonders how P.C. Chang was embedded into China's second cosmopolitan moment and the cosmopolitan nexus of many well-travelled Chinese intellectuals at this time.[2] To locate P.C. Chang within discourses of pan-Asian and colonial thinkers would have also uncovered many similarities with other Asian intellectuals. These, however, are mere quibbles and should not in any way diminish an excellent book that made accessible an otherwise arcane subject to the general reader and specialist alike. Roth's book is a landmark study in its field and deserves a broad readership.

[1] Pinghua Sun, Historic Achievement of a Common Standard: Pengchun Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Singapore 2018.
[2] Zhaoyuan Wan / David Palmer, The Cosmopolitan Moment in Colonial Modernity: The Bahá'í faith, spiritual networks, and universalist movements in early twentieth-century China, in: Modern Asian Studies (2019), pp. 1−41.

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