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:
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
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,
· Articles from the following web sites:
www.HRIChina.org (Human Rights
www.amnesty.org (Amnesty International)
www.tibet.org (Torture in Tibet)
(Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor)
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
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
A. Gyaltsen Drolkar, a Tibet nun, who represents the Drapchi 14
and who was imprisoned for "spreading counterrevolutionary
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
3. Asking students to forget their respective roles, ask whether
the panel's judgement is justified. Why or why not?
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?
4. What other information would you seek to determine the web site's