Yan Xuetong’s qualified acknowledgement of liberalism – Sam Crane
For many years the Chinese Communist Party has identified “Western values,” including various manifestations of liberalism, as a threat to political and social stability in the People’s Republic. From the 1983 movement to “eradicate spiritual pollution,” through repeated jeremiads against “bourgeois liberalization” and “peaceful evolution,” to more recent efforts to promote “socialist core values,” Party leaders have consistently attacked liberalism as a “hostile foreign force.” All the while, they attempt to appropriate and redefine certain liberal values – freedom, democracy – to support the illiberal authoritarianism that sustains their power.
It was somewhat surprising, then, to read Tsinghua University Professor Yan Xuetong’s recent article: ‘Chinese Values v. Liberalism: What Ideology Will Shape the International Normative Order?’ The “v.” in the title suggested a reiteration – perhaps a more sophisticated one, given Yan’s academic pedigree – of the usual anti-liberal diatribe. But instead of uncompromising condemnation or distorted appropriation, Yan recognizes the power of liberalism at the level of international relations, and advances tentative ideas for a reasonable accommodation between traditional Chinese values and liberal ideals.