By William Hongsong Wang*
News that the Chinese government was preparing to remove constitutional term limits on President Xi Jinping shocked most Chinese. Many worry that an unlimited term of office will lead to unlimited power and increased restrictions on individual liberty. Will President Xi become a Chinese version of Russia’s President Putin? Will Xi become another Mao Zedong-style dictator? Or is it even possible that Xi would proclaim himself emperor?
Due to internet censorship in China, people cannot express their opposition publicly so they still use insinuations and sarcasm to voice their opinions. Some of them even use the story of the failed monarchy restoration of the first President of the Republic of China, Yuan Shikai, in 1916.
The restoration of the monarchy in late 1915 caused the republicans to start a war against Yuan Shikai. Yuan was forced to cancel plans for monarchy just thirty-three days after his initial declaration. Yuan died soon thereafter amidst shame and resentment. His death was followed by a chaotic warlord era in China (1916-1928). During that period, many died, and many private fortunes were destroyed because of the wars and state abuses.
A few decades later in 1949, the Communist Revolution succeeded, and Mao Zedong started to rule China until his death in 1976. During Mao’s 44-year reign, millions of Chinese individuals died because of the Anti-Rightist Movement, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and other totalitarian political campaigns.
Considering that the above described tragedies happened in China in the 20th century, and considering Xi Jinping’s support of State-Own Enterprises, media censorship, centralization of power with Xi Cult features, it is reasonable for so many to worry about the future of China. Nevertheless, there are still some positive factors which may help China avoid entering another Mao-style dictatorship.
Since the 1978 market reforms, more and more Chinese have been realizing the benefits of open markets. Though individuals may not know how to defend the ideas of liberty, more and more of them have been adopting and practicing concepts of the market and private property rights which have improved the quality of life.
Economic Freedom Is of Critical Importance
Thus, the marketization process and a deeper understanding of the market economy and individual liberty makes another Mao-style dictatorship less possible. As Huerta de Soto said in his Socialism, Economic Calculation and Entrepreneurship,
[A]s the wealth of society and the development of civilization increase, socialism becomes much more difficult. The less advanced or more primitive a society is, and the more plentiful are the means the directing authority has available to handle information, the less complicated the problem of socialism appears (though from a logical and theoretical standpoint it is always impossible when applied to human beings endowed in their actions with an innate creative capacity.)
However, Friedrich Hayek cautioned in the Constitution of Liberty, “in the long run it is ideas and therefore the men who give currency to new ideas that govern evolution.” So Chinese libertarians should do their best to learn, to understand, and to promote the hard-core theories of liberty and economic science. Chinese libertarians should not only spread the ideas and ethics of freedom to those living in China but also to the global Chinese community who are suffering the consequences of the current Communist Regime.
For this purpose I quote Ludwig von Mises from the last chapter of Human Action about the relationship between economics, citizens, and freedom:
There is no means by which anyone can evade his personal responsibility. … As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake.
[E]conomics cannot remain an esoteric branch of knowledge accessible only to small groups of scholars and specialists. Economics deals with society’s fundamental problems; it concerns everyone and belongs to all. It is the main and proper study of every citizen…
These are sad facts. However, there is only one way in which a man can respond to them: by never relaxing in the search for truth.
No matter what Xi Jinping is going to do, our fight for liberty in China continues.
About the author:
*William Wang is a PhD candidate in economics at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. He received his Master’s degree in Austrian Economics at Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, Spain. He is a 2017 Mises University alumni.
This article was published by the MISES Institute