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We explore (classical) liberal thought in China. In China’s long recorded history, some ideas similar to subsequent Western liberal thinking have periodically appeared. Starting in the late nineteenth century, translated Western works on liberalism became available. Currently, because of political intrigue, liberal themes are rare in official academic or political settings, but much liberal thinking is freely available, networks of liberal aficionados exist, and their activities and ideas are accessible to the public. The influence of many of these ideas is still relatively weak, and there are concerns about growing restrictions on politically threatening views. But economists most influenced by liberalism have some role in public opinion, though less so in shaping public policy. Given the huge tasks ahead in Chinese reform, liberals need to strengthen these networks, and to gain support from entrepreneurs in particular.
Podcast related to this article: Evan Osborne on Liberalism in China (EJW Audio, September 2017).