P. C. Chang

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Peng Chun Chang
Tianjin, China
Nutley, New Jersey, United States
Other namesP. C. Chang
Occupationacademic, philosopher, playwright, activist, and diplomat

Peng Chun Chang, commonly known as P. C. Chang (simplified Chinese: 张彭春; traditional Chinese: 張彭春; pinyin: Zhāng Péngchūn; Wade–Giles: Chang1 P'eng2-ch'un1; 1892–1957), was a Chinese academic, philosopher, playwright, human rights activist, and diplomat. He was born in Tianjin, China, and died at his home in Nutley, New Jersey.[1]


Born in China, he was the younger brother of Chang Po-ling, the founder of Nankai University. He earned his Bachelor of Arts at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts in 1913, and a PhD from Columbia University, where he studied with the eminent philosopher and educator, John Dewey. He returned to China and became a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin, where he taught philosophy and became a scholar of Chinese traditional drama. He became a member of the circle of Mei Lanfang, foremost interpreter of Peking Opera. In 1930, he directed a tour of Chinese Classical Theater to North America, and in 1935 to the Soviet Union.[2]

After the invasion of China by Japan in 1937, Chang joined the anti-Japanese resistance at Nankai. When the Japanese arrived there, he fled by disguising himself as a woman. He was engaged by the Chinese government to assist in promoting awareness in Europe and America of the Nanking Massacre.[3] Chang later taught at the University of Chicago.

Chang became a full-time diplomat in 1942, serving as China's representative in Turkey. He was an enthusiastic promoter of Chinese culture. While in Turkey he delivered lectures on the reciprocal influences and commonalities between the Islamic and Chinese cultures, and on the relationship between Confucianism and Islam.[3] Following the war, Chang was a Chinese representative to the conference which produced the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Chang resigned from the UN in 1952 because of a worsening heart condition and died in 1957.[4]

Philosophy and activities on human rights[edit]

Chang has been described as a renaissance man. He was a playwright, musician, diplomat; a lover of traditional Chinese literature and music and someone who knew both Western and Islamic culture. His philosophy was strongly based on the teachings of Confucius. At the first meeting of United Nations Economic and Social Council he quoted Mencius stating that ECOSOC's highest aim should be to "subdue people with goodness."[5] He also argued that many influential western thinkers on rights were guided by Chinese ideas. "In the 18th century, when progressive ideas with respect to human rights had been first put forward in Europe, translations of Chinese philosophers had been known to, and had inspired, such thinkers as Voltaire, Quesnay and Diderot in their humanistic revolt against feudalism," he told the UN General Assembly in 1948.[6]

On the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting committee, he served both as an effective Asian delegate and also as a mediator when the negotiations reached a stalemate. He served as Vice-Chairman of the original UN Commission on Human Rights and Republic of China delegate to committee and played a pivotal role in its drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948.[citation needed] He and fellow delegate Charles Malik, the Lebanese philosopher-diplomat, shared ideals of universal human rights, but heatedly debated what they were and how they could be described in an international document. Another member of the committee confided to his diary that Chang and Malik "hate each other."[7] Yet by most accounts, Chang and Malik were the philosophical leaders of the deliberations. Chang argued that the modern world should pay heed to Chinese philosophers such as Mencius not because they were Chinese, but because their ideas had universal validity.[8]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sumner Twiss, "Confucian Contributions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," in Arvind Sharma. The World's Religions : A Contemporary Reader. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011). ISBN 9780800697464.
  • Hans Ingvar Roth, P.C. Chang and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)


  1. ^ (Obituary) New York Times July 21, 1957
  2. ^ Columbia and China: Past and Future - Lydia Liu presentation on P. C. Chang on YouTube
  3. ^ a b Mary Ann Glendon. A World Made New : Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (New York: Random House, 2001). ISBN 0679463100, p 133
  4. ^ Glendon, p 211
  5. ^ Glendon, p 33
  6. ^ Sumner Twiss, "Confucian Ethics, Concept-Clusters, and Human Rights ," in Henry Rosemont, Marthe Chandler and Ronnie Littlejohn. Polishing the Chinese Mirror : Essays in Honor of Henry Rosemont, Jr. (New York: Global Scholarly Publications, Acpa Series of Chinese and Comparative Philosophy, 2008). ISBN 9781592670833 p. 60-65.
  7. ^ A. J. Hobbins, ed., On the Edge of Greatness: The Diaries of John Humphrey, First Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1984), 1:174
  8. ^ Glendon, p. 144.

External links[edit]