Human trafficking and China: Past and present
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The idea of human trafficking as a new and distinct problem, a modern form of slavery that entraps individuals without agency in their own countries and abroad, is a common perception that has popularised the usage of the term 'human trafficking' and mobilised public support for various anti-trafficking initiatives. It is also part of the political narrative to compel states to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and legislate laws that are consistent with their international obligations under the Trafficking Protocol and other relevant international treaties. Yet, the portrayal of human trafficking as modern slavery is an oversimplification that disregards important historical antecedents. Placed in a wider historical narrative, problems of human trafficking in the twenty-first century notably represent the latest phase in enduring global campaigns against slavery, as well as institutions and practices similar to slavery. In this context, China is no exception, for there are significant historical parallels to the perceived contemporary problem of human trafficking in China. This work examines the present-day and historical aspects of the problem of human trafficking in China, beginning with the imperial period of the late-Qing of the mid-nineteenth century to the present-day People's Republic of China. The research presented here is driven by the question: What are these historical antecedents to trafficking of modern twenty-first century China? Related to this examination of past and present dynamics of trafficking is naturally the important question of how various Chinese governments of its modern era have responded to this multifaceted problem of human exploitation. By exploring these important parallels between the current trafficking situation in China and its past, as well as the effectiveness or limitations of its past efforts to address issues of human exploitation, one can arrive at a better understanding of how this historical legacy has affected China's view of the problem of human trafficking and its response in both law and policy.
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