• Articles

Dignity Discourses in Struggles for Basic Legal Freedoms in China

February 2021

From Asian Journal of Law and Society, Volume 8, Issue 1

How do dignity discourses shift the framing of struggles for basic legal freedoms? Based on our decade-long empirical research on lawyers and politics in China, we provide a theoretical intervention in a burgeoning socio-legal scholarship on dignity in this article. Drawing inductively from in-depth interviews, we find that a powerful current of dignity consciousness and sentiment, joined by an acute awareness of dignity harms, flows through the community of Chinese activist lawyers. Their dignity discourses can be witnessed and explained in four streams of awareness: (1) dignity experienced as an ideal in juridical, philosophical, and theological idioms; (2) dignity takings experienced indirectly and directly in the property takings of clients’ homes, farms, and livelihood; (3) assaults on dignity through property takings of spaces of religious worship; and (4) the takings of professional dignity from the lawyers charged with defending the dignity of others. This article points to the value of dignity framings in the general theory of collective action for basic legal freedoms.