The first minister is on a five-day visit to China, where she is aiming to promote Scottish business and build tourism and academic links.
Ms Sturgeon was briefed by Amnesty International before the trip on their concerns about rights abuses in China.
She said she would “never shy away from raising difficult issues”.
The first minister is on her second official visit to China, taking in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
She met Hu Chunhua, one of China’s four vice-premiers, at the start of the visit, saying “very constructive talks” had focused on “the long-standing friendship between Scotland and China, and how we can continue to develop this”.
She has also hosted and attended a series of events aimed at boosting Scottish exports to China, including whisky, salmon and technology, and has announced agreements between Scottish and Chinese universities in the finance, energy and computer games sectors.
Prior to the trip, Ms Sturgeon was urged by other politicians to speak up for human rights in China – something she told the BBC she had done.
She said: “One of the things that was raised with me before I came to China was whether we would raise human rights.
“I met with one of the vice-premiers earlier this week and raised human rights in that meeting, and I made a speech to an audience arranged by Unicef earlier this week heavily on children’s rights.
“The speech mentioned the universal declaration of human rights to a Chinese audience and was praised by Unicef, a campaigning organisation.
“I don’t shy away, and never would shy away, from raising difficult issues.”
Ms Sturgeon said she would not go into details of what was said at the private meeting, but said the topic of human rights was raised “very clearly”.
The first minister also defended her backing for the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools scholarship programme, having announced a £750,000 investment to help Scots travel to live and study in China.
The institute has faced criticism in the past for its links to the Chinese education programme, which is being monitored by the FBI after concerns over censorship and academic freedom.
Ms Sturgeon said the investment was “about making sure we’re teaching and raising the awareness amongst our own young people of Chinese language and Chinese culture”.
She said the curriculum in the institutes, which are part-funded by the Chinese government and overseen by an organisation linked to the ruling Communist Party, was overseen independently and was “not about propaganda in any way”.