Cultural values embodying universal norms: a critique of a popular assumption about cultures and human rights

Dev World Bioeth. 2005 Sep;5(3):251-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-8847.2005.00123.x.


In Western and non-Western societies, it is a widely held belief that the concept of human rights is, by and large, a Western cultural norm, often at odds with non-Western cultures and, therefore, not applicable in non-Western societies. The Universal Draft Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights reflects this deep-rooted and popular assumption. By using Chinese culture(s) as an illustration, this article points out the problems of this widespread misconception and stereotypical view of cultures and human rights. It highlights the often ignored positive elements in Chinese cultures that promote and embody universal human values such as human dignity and human rights. It concludes, accordingly, with concrete suggestions on how to modify the Declaration.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethical Issues / standards
  • Bioethics
  • China
  • Confucianism
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Ethical Relativism*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Human Rights / standards*
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation*
  • Social Values
  • United Nations
  • Western World