Journal of Chinese Political Science

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 365–385 | Cite as

Citizenship in China: a Comparison of Rights with the East and West

  • Thomas Janoski
Research Article


After the economic rise of China with the improvement in their standard of living, there have been many changes in the rights of citizens in China. This paper provides a broad survey of rights to see how China compares with the West and some countries in the Far East. This comparison assesses citizenship theory as it might apply to China, and then assesses a number of measures of rights. First, in order to make comparisons, the very different conceptions and theories of citizenship in China must be considered. Chinese citizenship is based on more of a communitarian model than a liberal or social democratic approach mainly due to Confucianism. Despite considerable improvement in citizenship rights, China’s reliance on a more communitarian citizenship theory (rather than liberal or social democratic theories) tends to emphasize obligations over rights. Second, in assessing the level of rights in China in the 21st century, T. H. Marshall provides the classification of legal, political and social rights. Using Freedom House, Fraser Institute and other data, I make cross-national comparisons between China and Western countries (e.g., the US, Canada and select European countries) and East Asian countries or regions (e.g., Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan). I also include Russia since it has made a similar transition from communist rule. The paper argues that citizenship rights for Chinese citizens have improved for many legal and social rights but not so much for political rights. However, all of these rights in China are much lower than in the West and much of East Asia, though in a few instances the levels are quite similar to Russia. I conclude with an estimate of the possible pathways toward greater political rights in China over the next few decades.


Citizenship Citizenship Rights Communitarian Citizenship Confucianism East Asia 



A version of this paper was delivered as the plenary talk at “the Conference of Citizenship in Orientalized Societies” at Sun Yat-Sen University in June of 2013. I appreciate the invitation from Zhonghua Guo (Sun Yat-Sen University) and Professor Engin Isin (The Open University, London). Critical commentary has been provided by Dorothy Sollinger (University of California-Irvine), Haoqun Gong (Minzu University), Sun Pinjin (Shanghai University), Taihui Guo (South China Normal University), Ouyang Jinggen (Heibei Party School), and Yihan Xiong (Fudan University). Additional help has come from Fayin Xu (University of Kentucky).


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