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There is a belief promoted by some in China and by some in the West that ideas on individual liberty and human rights are incompatible with Chinese culture. Frank Calzon, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, took on this belief at the Bush Institute’s May 26 conference on human freedom. “Either we believe in universal rights, or we don’t,” he said. “I don’t think that we should buy for a minute the idea that certain human beings are not as upset about their kids being beaten up… about the very basic lack of freedoms that we discuss here.” Today, Chinese scholar Liu Junning explains in The Wall Street Journal that not only are Western ideas on liberty compatible with Chinese culture, but China has a deep intellectual history supporting individual rights. Liu writes that “what we now call Western–style liberalism has featured in China’s own culture for millennia.” It appears in the writings of many prominent Chinese philosophers, including Taoism founder Laozi (6th century B.C.), Confucian disciple Mencius (4th century B.C.), and the pioneering neo–Confucian thinker Huang Zongxi (17th century A.D.). Those who see in Beijing a new model for economic growth – one where the government makes better, more stable macro decision than a free–market system can – are misguided. Liu notes that China has done best economically when it has allowed individuals a greater degree of freedom in pursuing economic gain. “To say that the narrative of liberty vs. power is uniquely ‘Western’ is to turn a blind eye to the struggles of those who have gone before us,” Liu writes. “Individual rights are not a Western development any more than paper and gunpowder are inventions that are uniquely Chinese.” China is a rising economic power in the world, but its growth stems from the same source that such things come from in the West: human creativity. Unleashing that requires respect for the universal human desire to be free. To read Liu’s op–ed, click here.
Amanda Schnetzer serves as Fellow, Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas.
Previously, Amanda served as Director Global Initiatives after serving as founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative. In this role, she was responsible for developing innovative research, programmatic, and policy efforts to advance societies rooted in political and economic freedom and to empower women to lead in their communities and countries.
Amanda has twenty years of experience in the international arena and a background in public policy research and analysis, public affairs, and management of diverse, high-level stakeholders. As senior fellow and director of studies at Freedom House in New York, Amanda guided research for the organization’s definitive studies of freedom. She began her career at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, supporting research on U.S. foreign policy and international politics. Amanda is a published writer and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Southern Methodist University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.Full Bio
Chinese Prisoner’s Death Holds a Message for Americans and China
Liu Xiaobo, China’s most prominent dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner died this week. His death holds a message for Americans and for China.
Release of Chinese Political Prisoner a Timely Reminder to Support Freedom Advocates Abroad
More than half the world’s population still lives in countries where basic political rights and civil liberties are only partly respected, if at all.
Bringing Freedom to the Forefront of 21st Century Politics
Is the global liberal democratic order in danger? Purposefully constructed in the aftermath of World War II, this order -- and the American leadership that is central to its success --has contributed to securing peace and expanding prosperity in the United States and around the world. Today, that order appears to be dissolving. This crisis is not new or sudden; it has been mounting for several years. Global challenges like authoritarian capitalism, violent extremism, demographic pressures, and displaced populations have placed global freedom in decline. Fraying traditional alliances united by core values of freedom are increasingly weak to respond. It is alarming that the downdraft in democratic resilience over the past decade or more includes countries that have long been part of the consolidated democratic West. This is democratic deconsolidation. In much of the Western world, we see a rise in demagogic populism, illiberalism, nationalism, protectionism, and waning conf
The Importance of Speaking Truth to Tyrants
What the president of the United States says matters. Even during the realpolitik policies of détente under Richard Nixon, it was still clear that American policy was based on a set of core values. Nixon’s practical goals of reaching deals with America’s adversaries was never based on the “great chemistry” with himself or praising the Soviet or Communist Chinese leadership doing a “fantastic job.” When the president aligns himself with the autocrats and dictators, he aligns America with their oppression. He sends a message that corruption and brutality are not our concern. Contrast that with how Ronald Reagan defied much of world opinion in calling out the brutality of the Soviet system. Natan Sharansky, then a refusenik imprisoned in a Soviet gulag, later wrote for the Weekly Standard of his thoughts on Reagan’s pronouncement that the USSR was an evil empire: “It was the great, brilliant moment whe