International rights and local realities : transnational alliance of the disability rights movements in China

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Purpose: The purpose of this chapter is to scrutinize the apparent alliance between international and local disability rights movements by contextualizing the process in which the disability rights model is being diffused globally. It seeks to critically examine the transplantation and promotion of the international disability rights movement’s rights-based model in China. 

Approach: This chapter draws from 18 in-depth interviews with local and international disability rights activists through multisite ethnographic fieldwork in China in 2019. 

Findings: This chapter finds that despite opening up spaces for resistance and emancipation locally, the international disability rights movement nevertheless constitutes what I call an enclave of rights that insulates the international rights model from the political, social, and economic realities on the ground. In the case of China, the authoritarian politics that define the relationship between the state and civil society, as well as the economic vulnerability of people with disabilities in the post-socialist market economy, limit, if not invalidate, the rights model espoused by the international disability rights movement. 

Implications: The findings of this chapter challenge and complicate the current scholarship of the transnational disability rights movement beyond its normative claims of emancipation. They also explore potential spaces and direction for building a new transnational alliance that takes into account the local experience of disability in a rapidly globalized world.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDisability alliances and allies : opportunities and challenges
EditorsAllison C. CAREY, Joan M. OSTROVE, Tara FANNON
PublisherEmerald Group Holdings Ltd.
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781839093210
ISBN (Print)9781839093227
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameResearch in Social Science and Disability
ISSN (Print)1479-3547

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The fieldtrip for this research was not possible without the support of the Harlan Hahn Award from the Disability Studies Program, University of Washington. In addition, I am grateful to my advisor Stephen Meyers who has always been supportive of my work and with whom I developed the ideas for this chapter. I thank Heather D. Evans for being my best reader and offering very constructive comments about my arguments and writing with tremendous patience. I also thank the editors and reviewers for their feedbacks and comments. The last remark is to my interviewees and those who are still on the frontlines and working to advance disability rights in China: Thank you for sharing your gripping stories with me.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Emerald Group Holdings Ltd.


  • China
  • Conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities
  • Disability rights movement
  • The rights model of disability
  • Transnational alliance
  • Transnational disability studies


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