The Ancient Roots of Chinese Liberalism

At The Wall Street Journal, Liu Junning argues that China’s economic successes have arisen from the government’s limited surrenders of control, rather than a China Model based “some alchemy of power and Marxism”:

This becomes clear in comparing China’s economic performance during periods when Beijing has been more closely versus less closely following the Beijing Model. According to MIT economist Yasheng Huang, “[W]hen measured by factors that directly track the living standards of the average Chinese person, China has performed the best when it pursued liberalizing, market-oriented economic reforms, as well as conducted modest political reform, and moved away from statist policies.” […]

Indeed, what we now call Western-style liberalism has featured in China’s own culture for millennia. We first see it with philosopher Laozi, the founder of Taoism, in the sixth century B.C. Laozi articulated a political philosophy that has come to be known as wuwei, or inaction. “Rule a big country as you would fry a small fish,” he said. That is, don’t stir too much. “The more prohibitions there are, the poorer the people become,” he wrote in his magnum opus, the “Daodejing.”

Much later we find the writings of Huang Zongxi (1610-1695), known as “The Father of Chinese Enlightenment.” A fierce critic of despotism and the divine rights of sovereigns, Huang once rhetorically asked, “Is it that the heaven and the earth with all their magnitude are destined only in favor of one person or one family among all the people?” His “Waiting for the Dawn: A Plan for the Prince,” it should be noted, was written more than 50 years before John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government.”


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