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The Relevance of Liberalism in China

The Relevance of Liberalism in China

Professor Leigh Jenco, 20 September 2023 14.00 BST
From our series: Freedom of Expression, Knowledge and State Authority in Asia

Liberalism and its component elements formed the basis of the formation of the Republic of China in 1912. However, its place in Chinese politics was short lived as a consequence of the installation of a Communist government in Mainland China following the Chinese Civil War (1927-1949). Over the past seven plus decades the Chinese Communist Party has consolidated a centralised authoritarian government with very little regard for liberalism culminating, most recently, in the crackdown on individual freedoms in Hong Kong in 2020. 

Despite what seems like a blatant rejection of liberal democratic values, China’s approach to politics and society can be seen to be part of a wider debate surrounding the applicability of Western values to Asia. Since the early 1990’s, Asian leaders such as former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad and former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew have advocated the concept of “Asian Values”, an alternative set of political and social values based on the unique historical experiences and cultural features of Asia. This debate and the absence of liberalism across much of Asia opens up questions regarding the relevance of liberalism in certain contexts and the implications of its absence on society, politics and culture.

Leigh Jenco is a Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics. Her research spans across the disciplinary platforms of political theory, global intellectual history, and Asian studies to demonstrate the value of Chinese thought for posing new questions of political life. She has held positions at the National University of Singapore, Academia Sinica, National Taiwan University and the University of Heidelberg.

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