Independence Day and China Freedom: After 222 years, declaration is alive and well and exhorting the best in the human spirit.

July 04, 1998

President Clinton's trip to China has given that country a taste of the freedoms the United States has come to appreciate since the Declaration of Independence was signed and proclaimed 222 years ago today.

The declaration towered over the Great Wall as President Clinton gently lectured Chinese President Jiang Zemin that government derives its being from the rights of the governed.

Its ideals could be heard at Beijing University, where the American president carried the founding document's message of individual liberties to a receptive generation reared in a Communist, and often repressive, society.

On this Fourth of July, it is clear that a document as relatively recent as the declaration has something to offer China, a nationwhose culture can be counted in milleniums rather than centuries.

No, America was not born perfect.

Even while Thomas Jefferson was crafting the declaration, he and other signers held slaves, contradicting the document's language and spirit. Women's suffrage didn't exist.But Jefferson's language became a living sword that those fighting for equality have wielded time and again over two centuries to challenge America to broaden human rights and become a better country.

The United States still is not perfect, but it is closer to the ideal now than then, largely because the Declaration of Independence is a living document that continues to appeal to our consciences and best instincts.

As President Clinton said after arriving in Xian: "Respect for the worth, the dignity, the potential and the freedom of every citizen is a vital source of America's strength and success."

China's leaders would be wise to heed Mr. Clinton's advice.

And, on this Independence Day, we should be grateful to be guided by a document that resonates across the seas as loudly as it did when revolutionaries rejected British tyranny.

The declaration reminds us to appreciate our unparalleled freedom and to respect and realize that every person has equal value and individual liberty worth protecting.

Its message has made this country better since its founding. Now it is an ambassador for change throughout the world.

Pub Date: 7/04/98

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