An Exploration of Human Rights Issues in China

Essential Question: To what extent, if at all, should NYC high school students take action to protest human rights violations? Case Study: China

1. To analyze the significance of Alfred North Whitehead's idea that if a butterfly dies in Africa, it somehow affects people living in other parts of the world.
2. To engage in a values clarification poll as to what action, if any, students in the class would take if they had knowledge of a human rights violation in a hypothetical country.
3. To read and interpret six case studies of alleged human rights violations in China. For each, teams of students will complete a chart of the name of the victim, the alleged abuse, location, date of occurrence, reaction of Chinese government, and questions to ask the alleged victim.
4. To engage in a simulation/role-play based upon a selection of articles in which a Human Rights Panel hears testimony of alleged victims of abuse.
5. To analyze the six cases and to conclude whether attitudes about student involvement have changed as a result of the evidence presented. To the extent that action is proposed, to identify the nature of that activity.
6. To list other information students might need to make an informed judgement on the essential question, including other countries in which human rights violations may be occurring.

Current articles about human rights issues in China, which may include:
· "Chinese Court Hands Down Prison Sentence for 2 Leaders of a Banned Party." The New York Times International June 1, 2002.
· Articles from the following web sites: (Human Rights in China) (Amnesty International) (Torture in Tibet) (Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor) (Tiananmen Square)

DAY 1: Organization of the Simulation

Motivation: Put the following statement on the board and have a student read the statement to the class:

"If a butterfly dies in Africa, it will, in some way, have an influence on me."

Explain that this statement paraphrases an idea developed by the English philosopher Lord Alfred North Whitehead. Ask related questions: What do you think he is saying? Based on the statement, how does he view humanity? Do you feel he is correct or ridiculous? Explain your opinion.


1. Propose that Country X, a dictatorship, allegedly has violations of basic human rights. You read in the newspaper that one of its citizens is tortured in prison. Poll the class as to how many would take action to protest the torture (e.g., sign petitions, write letters, contribute money, join organizations to bring abuse to public attention, etc.). Students should explain their responses.
2. Tally results on board.
3. Ask: Under which position (of the ones on the board) should we put Lord Whitehead? Why?
4. Explain that in class, today and tomorrow, they will be engaging in a simulation dealing with alleged human rights violations in China. Based on the discussion so far, elicit a major question that students will have to decide once they read and analyze case studies documenting alleged abuse in China.
5. Put the essential question on the board to focus the activities of the next two days.
6. Distribute packet of source materials to each student in class. The articles may include the following cases from the aforementioned web sites:

A. Gyaltsen Drolkar, a Tibet nun, who represents the Drapchi 14 and who was imprisoned for "spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda."

B. Zhang Shanguang, who is serving a 10-year sentence at a prison factory after circulating a petition demanding an end to torture and long working hours.

C. Zhuo Xiaojun, who is facing the death penalty because of a confession Zhou claims was extracted under torture.

D.Yao Guisheng, who was sentenced in 1989 to fifteen years of imprisonment for "robbery and assault."

E. Hu Mingjun and Wang Sen, two leaders of the outlawed China Democracy Party, who were given long prison sentences on subversion charges.

F. Ding Zilin, representing the Tiananmen Mothers, who feels the government should be held accountable for the massacre of June 4, 1989, which took the lives of young and old.

7. Explain to the class that the object of the simulation is to call witnesses to testify before the Human Rights Panel regarding possible violations in China. Each "witness" must wear some piece of clothing or carry some prop, which gives the class a sense of the character being portrayed. Lawyers for the People will call their witness to present "evidence" that he/she is a victim of human rights violations. Lawyers for the government will have a chance to "cross examine" the witness to question whether a human rights violation actually occurred. (Suggestion: If the teacher wishes, students may write a first person narrative from the point of view of the victim pleading his/her case.)

8. Assign each article to two groups: two students for the People who will play the roles of the witness and his/her lawyer, and one student to cross-examine the witness on behalf of the government. Each side will open with an introductory statement about the case and will have a total of three minutes. Allow students time to do in-class preparation based on the reading.

Assign the remaining students to be the hearing panel. The teacher will select one student as a magistrate to preside over the hearings and one timekeeper: six minutes for each witness, divided equally between the people's lawyers and the government's cross-examination. The panel members will read all six cases.

To start the process, have each group read its case and complete the following chart (also included as a handout):

Name of Victim:

(For the People: Clothing/Prop to Illustrate Character's Plight/Story)

Alleged Human Rights Violation:



Reaction of the Chinese Government:

Important Points for the Panel to Understand about this Incident:

Key Questions to Elicit These Points:

DAY 2: The Hearings

1. Arrange the class with the hearing panel seated in front, the witnesses and their lawyers on one side, the government's lawyer on the other side, and the witness standing in the rear of the room facing the panel.

2. Have the magistrate explain to the assembled group that the purpose of the procedure is to determine whether the six witnesses have been victims of human rights violations in China. He/She will further explain that the people's lawyer will have three minutes to question the witness who must accurately reflect the written case studies and provide an empathetic image. Government Lawyers will then have three minutes to "debunk" the presentation using the reading(s).

3. The panel members will take notes on each case, drawing conclusions about the government's role and possible human rights violations. Their notes will form the basis of an essay to be written at home.

DAY 3: The Verdict and Debriefing

1. With the rest of the class observing, the magistrate will poll each panel member to ascertain whether, in their opinion, each of the witnesses was a victim of human rights abuses. The teacher may select two or three of the panel members to support their responses by reading their essays. The magistrate will complete a chart on the board, recording the responses as follows:

Name of Witness           Human Rights Violation         No Human Rights Violation


2. Ask: What conclusions can we draw from looking at the data? How would you determine who the winners and the losers were in this game? Explain.
3. Asking students to forget their respective roles, ask whether the panel's judgement is justified. Why or why not?

Summary Question

What conclusions can this class draw about the essential question stated in the beginning? To what extent, if at all, should American high school students take action to protest human rights violations in China? Which actions, if any, do you feel would be effective? To what extent, if at all, did your attitude change as a result of this simulation?


What other information, if any, would you need before you took an action to protest a human rights violation in a foreign country? How could you obtain it? Should you always believe what you read on a human rights web site? Explain.


Scan one of the suggested human rights web sites. Select one issue and answer the following questions:

1. Why do the publishers of the web site feel this issue is important?
2. As an American high school student, do you feel it is? Explain why or why not.
3. Is the information on the issue presented in an objective manner? Give examples.
4. What other information would you seek to determine the web site's credibility? Explain.

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