Ground-breaking work ... Ma Jun. Photo: YouTube
The Dalai Lama, Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo and Tiananmen Square. When the international community brings up ''human rights'' with China, the story plays out with a script so familiar one need only swap the names from last month's story.
The Chinese government reacts to the condemnation with its characteristic crossing of the arms arguing that human rights with ''Chinese characteristics'' put collective economic and social welfare over so-called Western concepts of individual rights. And in any case, ''Westerners, it's none of your business''.
There is only one group of people whose opinions China cares about: its 1.3 billion people. It is their side of the story that is often lost.
Every day thousands of Chinese people demand their human rights. There is the former journalist-turned-environmentalist Ma Jun and his ground-breaking work collecting pollution data, exposing the biggest corporate offenders in the process. Or the inspiring tale of Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer who has defended victims of forced, late-term abortions and unlawful land seizures in class-action lawsuits against corrupt local officials. But mainly they are just ordinary concerned citizens - neither activists nor dissidents - getting online and on the streets, to make their views known.
China is richer, and more educated, than ever with a digital revolution that has catapulted the country into the information age. Savvier citizens are taking note of the collateral damage - environmental degradation, forced home demolitions, a weak judicial system - sacrificed under the banner of the rapid economic rise. Their agitation means officials are finding it harder to juggle stellar growth while maintaining social harmony.
China's most popular microblog tool, Weibo, is awash with stories of social injustices committed by government officials and the powerful elite. A testament to the magnitude of the Chinese internet, the most viral will attract tens of thousands of comments. Yes, there is censorship but restrictions are patchy and the system is full of leaks, leaving large swaths of this public forum intact.
Having had a taste of ''digital democracy'', freedom of speech has become one of China's most fiercely defended rights. Last month more than 28,000 users forwarded news of the release of Ren Jianyu, 25, who had reposted online comments critical of Chongqing government authorities.
Prosecutors had used a T-shirt found in his apartment reading ''Freedom or Death'' as evidence of his intention to overthrow the government. He successfully appealed his two-year labour re-education sentence after an outcry driven by the internet.
But the fight for human rights is not found only online. This year was marked by a number of high-profile nimby protests. In the most recent, thousands of citizens of the east coast city Ningbo converged on a downtown square to oppose the construction of a chemical plant. The residents won and plans for the plant have been canned but online environmentalists are now engaged in a larger war: demanding information transparency and legal processes that involve resident input.
As the nimby protests illustrate, more often than not Chinese citizens demand reform, not revolution. Issues related to migration, land ownership, food safety, poverty and corruption are huge concerns - more pressing than instigating a Chinese version of the Arab Spring or advocating for the Falun Gong or Tibetan independence, although it is difficult to pin this to disinterest or censorship.
Activists have become aware those fighting for human welfare are given slightly more leniency than those directly challenging the Communist Party's right to power. Which is why when the villagers of Wukan, in Guangdong province, gathered for large-scale protests last year to push out corrupt local officials, they urged reporters to refrain from calling their protests an ''uprising''.
As part of United Nations Human Rights Day on Monday, the activist Chen Guangcheng posted a video message. His story as a defender of women, the disabled, the poor and other victims of abuse from local authorities and his subsequent four years prison time makes for a discouraging tale. And yet it is a struggle more people are supporting.
With the 18th Congress just passed, China has kicked off its once-in-a-decade leadership transition. One clear point of difference from 10 years ago is who is voicing dissent. Where once leaders could paint activists as troublemakers living on the fringes, these days critical voices are more likely to come from internet-savvy middle and frustrated working classes.
Monica Tan is an Australian writer living in Beijing. Tweet her @m-onicatan