Walking a Tightrope

Defending Human Rights in China

Gert Holmgaard Nielsen

  • Published:
  • Pages: 310 pp., illustrated
  • Series number: 6
Worldwide

First Western book viewing Chinese human rights issues solely from a Chinese perspective.

Gives voice to nine Chinese human rights defenders, describing their challenges, setbacks and progress.

Richly illustrated.

How do Chinese people defend human rights in China without going to jail? How can they seek justice without the state hitting back at them? The human rights situation in China is not without its challenges but even so the last decades have seen marked improvements. Even so, much of the international attention on the issue is focused on human rights violations and the suppression of dissent; it is rare to find accounts of people inside China working on human rights who are not being harassed or put into jail.

 In what is probably the first Western book to see the Chinese human rights issue solely from a Chinese perspective, Walking a Tightrope gives voice to nine Chinese human rights defenders, describing their challenges, setbacks and progress. Although not denying the fact that human rights are often violated in China, the book points out that there are positive stories and that things are improving in certain areas. That said, many of the improvements described by the interviewees are minor (especially seen with Western eyes), and the book clearly shows that, right now, it is especially hard to promote human rights in China.

 What is essential to understand, however, is Chinese law offers extensive protection of human rights in almost every aspect of social life. What then many of the interviewees in this book are trying to do is to secure implementation of the law. This is the really hard part of their work. In this book they describe how and why hey do it – defending human rights, Chinese style.

author image not supplied

A long-term resident of Beijing, Gert Holmgaard Nielsen worked as a journalist and photographer in China from 2003 to 2009. During this period, he worked for a range of media outlets, including as radio correspondent for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation for several years. Today, he teaches Mandarin Chinese at a business school in Copenhagen.

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by David Kinley, University of Sydney
From journal:
Pacific Affairs: Volume 88, No. 4 – December 2015

“Its documentary style of delivery—comprising extended interview notes and some reflective commentary—makes for captivating reading. (…)

Gert Holmgaard Nielsen, a journalist who has lived and worked in China for many years (and is fluent in Chinese), is masterful in the way he collects, arranges, and presents the material. (…)

“Its documentary style of delivery—comprising extended interview notes and some reflective commentary—makes for captivating reading. (…)

Gert Holmgaard Nielsen, a journalist who has lived and worked in China for many years (and is fluent in Chinese), is masterful in the way he collects, arranges, and presents the material. (…)

The insights this book offers into how human rights advocacy is practiced on the ground and on a daily basis in China are both profound and compelling.

(…) we should be very grateful to Nielsen and his subjects for telling them in such an attractive and accessible manner. To reach out and enlighten in this way can only help to build human rights bridges within China, and between China and the rest of the world."

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