What does an average guy from the West like myself know about China? Tian’anmen Square, the Great Firewall, communism, and collectivism. One can still find remnants of these generalizations in Chinese society today, even after the free-market reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. However, there is no doubt that China is radically changing. While there, I observed expensive luxurious cars on the street, lavish malls with ice skating rings, an abundance of technological products, and people using mini segways instead of walking.
I spoke to many Chinese students, some sporting Rothbard shirts, and realized that they want to be individualistic and create their own paths in the world. They all question the information blockade and know about Facebook, Twitter, and their government’s restrictive policies. Their willingness to listen to my and other outsider views on China demonstrate their eagerness to learn more. This open mindset will not go away and is sure to influence political opinions in the future.
Three years ago, I co-founded European Students For Liberty (ESFL). At that point, I was blown away to discover a handful of people committed enough to spend their time and energy promoting liberty. Before that, I thought there were barely any classical-liberals out there. Now, this fall, ESFL is organizing 16 conferences in 15 countries and the African Students For Liberty Conference this past weekend had 1180 student attendees. Things truly are changing!
China is no exception, as demonstrated by this picture from the Shanghai Austrian Economics Summit organized by our friends from TFT Events and the International Society for Individual Liberty (and the great Schoolland family). Many Chinese professors talked about the follies and shortcomings of government intervention in the economy. Everyone at the event had a profound knowledge of classical liberal ideas and wanted to learn more. This astonishing conference was topped by the moving story of Yeon-Mi Park. Yeon-Mi fled North Korea in 2009 and had to live as an illegal immigrant in China before finally finding freedom in South Korea. After learning English in 2012, she began giving speeches around the world to educate people about the reality of life under the most oppressive government in the world. Check out her talk for Liberty in North Korea, her article in the Washington Post, and her work for Young Voices.
I was also thrilled that Professor Mao Yushi was in attendance. He is a remarkable and brave man who won the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty in 2012 and authored an article entitled Restore Mao Zedong as a Man, which denounced Mao and his legacy. Can you imagine? He risked his freedom and life to advocate for liberty and to argue against Mao Zedong who is still omnipresent in China (each time you pay for something his face will be looking at you and judging your capitalistic behavior). He also founded the Unirule Institute, a classical liberal economic think tank in Beijing.
All in all, the interactions I had with people during my visit give me hope for the future of individual liberty and entrepreneurship in China. Liberty truly knows no borders.