Approaching Chinese Freedom: A Study in Absolute and Relative Values

David Kelly


The rise of stability preservation to dominance in the political order coincided with a highly charged debate over “universal values” and a closely related discussion of a “China Model”. This paper analyses the critique of universal values as a “wedge issue” that is used to pre-empt criticism of the party-state by appealing to nationalism and cultural essentialism. Taking freedom as a case in point of a universal value, it shows that, while more developed in the West, freedom has an authentic Chinese history with key watersheds in the late Qing reception of popular sovereignty and the ending of the Maoist era. The work of Wang Ruoshui, Qin Hui and Xu Jilin display some of the resources liberals now bring to “de-wedging” universal values, not least freedom. They share a refusal to regard “Western” values as essentially hostile to Chinese.

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