An Interview With Mao Yushi

Forbes’ Simon Montlake talks to economist Mao Yushi on the need and prospects for political reform in China:

Q: Since economic reform began in 1978, the Communist Party has had a strong record of growth and poverty reduction. Does this provide legitimacy for continued one-party rule?

Mao: No, it’s not enough. The government is under big pressure.… Most people think that political reform is lagging behind. We should first have freedom of speech. I think that is probably the most important [reform]. Only in this environment can people supervise and oversee the government. After freedom of speech [there is] the right to choose the government. In China’s case, the leaders aren’t chosen by the people. They chose themselves, and we have nothing to say. That is a dangerous relationship ….

What is the biggest challenge to the ­leadership over the next five years?

That would be the clash between vested interest groups and social justice. The law can’t control [these groups]. They have special freedom. They get extra income because of … privilege power. Big state enterprises are vested interest groups. They collude with politicians.

Mao also discusses the surprisingly strong reaction to his iconoclastic essay on Mao Zedong last year. A focal point of the outrage that followed was the leftist Utopia website, where users looked forward to the economist’s “annihilation”. But when Utopia was forced offline following Bo Xilai’s fall from grace, Mao spoke up in its defence. From his Sina Weibo account, on March 28th:

当局把乌有之乡等网站封了。不过我还是希望他们有说理的机会。我虽然不赞成他们的观点,但是发言权是不可剥夺的。我也希望他们不要诽谤别人,说某某人是汉奸,也不可鼓动别人去杀人,去抢别人的财产。给人发言权是为了讲清道理,不是去害人,也不是发泄情绪。这些都不是一个良好的社会应有的现象。

The authorities have shut down Utopia and other sites, but I hope there will still be a chance to reason things out. Although I disagree with the Utopians’ points of view, their right to express them is inalienable. [But] I also hope they will no longer libel people, saying that they’re traitors to China, and urging people to kill them and steal their property. The point of freedom of expression is for one to clearly set out one’s points of view, not to harm others or to vent one’s spleen. These are not desirable social phenomena.

Mao was recently awarded the 2012 Milton Friedman Liberty Prize by the Washington-based Cato Institute, which said that “the arc of his life has been one of well-measured action in the pursuit of liberty.”