Confucianism and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 8, 2023

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted on December 10, 1948. In commemoration of the UHDR’s 75th anniversary, RFI’s Paul Marshall wrote an article for ReligionUnplugged reflecting on this document, which is “the most widely agreed upon global standard for protecting rights and dignity.” “In practice it is, of course, widely ignored,” Marshall observes, “but its power is shown in that even those who violate try to pretend that they are really respecting it.” Marshall continues:

More recent assaults on the UDHR have claimed that it, or its current interpretations, are simply a Western standard imposed on the rest of the world. With several Western governments now pushing for novel rights in matters sexual, this is indeed cause for concern, but it needs to be emphasized that the core human rights documents do not include these innovations and have drawn on many cultures and religions.

This is shown in the key role of Peng Chun Chang, vice chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that actually produced the UDHR. Chang expressly drew on traditional Chinese thought and especially its underlying themes of human dignity.

Most attention on those who drafted the UDHR has properly focused first on Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of America’s late president, because of her prestige and her role in chairing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. After that, most consideration has deservedly focused on the large roles played by France’s Rene Cassin and Lebanon’s Charles Malik.

But Chang played an equally prominent, perhaps greater, role. He was the Chinese representative to the commission and was its vice chair, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt herself. He was also chosen by the commission to be a member of the eight-member drafting committee, charged with the actual wording of the declaration itself.

Read the full article: “Confucianism and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”