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Chinese Culture and "Western" Ideas on Liberty

July 6, 2011 3 minute Read by Amanda Schnetzer

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.


Author

Amanda Schnetzer
Amanda Schnetzer

Amanda Schnetzer is Director of Global Initiatives at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. In this role, she is 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. Previously she served as the Bush Institute’s founding director of the Human Freedom Initiative. 

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.

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